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  • Provenance

    Mary Boone Gallery, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    New York, Mary Boone Gallery, TOMOO GOKITA, 11 January - 1 March 2014

  • Literature

    'TOMOO GOKITA', purple MAGAZINE, issue 22, Fall/ Winter 2014, online (illustrated)
    ‘Japanese Painting- Wu Mutian Zhiyang’,, 8 September 2017, online (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Presenting Tomoo Gokita’s instantly-recognisable geometric forms in a striking grayscale palette, Sham Marriage, 2013, exudes the mystery and wit that have come to define the artist’s highly graphic oeuvre. Rendered with amalgamated zigzags and congruous angles, the painting delineates the anonymous silhouettes of a man and a woman over a subtle gradation of black and grey. Precisely achieved with acrylic gouache and charcoal on linen, the composition bathes in a textural complexity that is reflective of Gokita’s rigorous practice, whereby ‘there’s nothing haphazard — not even an accidental drip’ (Tomoo Gokita, quoted in ‘Tomoo Gokita’s painterly coup’, The Japan Times, 11 September 2014, online).

    Sourcing imagery from soft-core erotic magazines, vintage album covers and mainstream television, Gokita appropriates the distorted bodily archetypes that pervade popular media, and transforms them into abstract, supernatural incarnations. Spanning Cubism, Surrealism, Pop art and mass media, Sham Marriage’s multifarious visual references are emblematic of the artist’s ability to engage in dialogue with distinctive currents of image production. While the woman’s tiny cartoonish eyes set against a neo-expressionist smear of paint are redolent of Roy Lichtenstein’s comic-infused oeuvre, the smoothness of the composition’s gradient-formed backdrop suggests methods of photographic focus utilised in commercial billboards. Employing a visual language akin to that of advertising, Gokita tackles the age-old genre of portraiture in ultra-contemporary terms, imparting it with a sense of glamour that challenges the traditional tenets of painterly representation. The artist’s expert use of light, displaying an array of dramatic contrasts, additionally reflects his fondness for photography and film, and takes on, along with an arresting chiaroscuro quality, the visual countenance of a film noir.

    Operating within a larger art historical tradition of hybrid representation, Gokita explores the indistinct border that separates realism from abstraction. Like Gerhard Richter’s photo-realist canvases made in the late 1960s, Gokita’s idiosyncratic work builds upon existing imagery, and subsequently undergoes intentional camouflage through a masterful manipulation of paint. Expanding upon the variation of a single gradient, Gokita summons the aesthetic of a bygone era, much like Richter highlighted the temporal gap between reality and its representation in his blurred, almost faded chromatic paintings. The subversive property of Richter’s work suffuses his palette with an enticing quality that is redolent of Gokita’s dexterously shaded tones, which, as noted by prominent art critic Roberta Smith, scintillate in ways that ‘make black-and-white feel like living colour’ (Roberta Smith, ‘Stranger Town: Invading Genres Breach the Art World’s Porous Borders’, The New York Times, 9 March 2005).

    Brimming with mesmerising detail and graphic-like smoothness, Sham Marriage heralds a theme that has enthralled artists across time. Touching upon the timeless subject of coupledom, the present work finds precedent in the myriad of portraits that have examined the bond tying spouses or romantic partners, namely Grant Wood’s American Gothic, Pablo Picasso’s Saltimbanques, and René Magritte’s Les Amants. Shrouding lovers in white cloth, Magritte’s iconic painting Les Amants has been understood as a comment on the complex nature of romantic intimacy, blending notions of exposure and repression. This reading could similarly be applied to Gokita’s Sham Marriage, as the depicted duo’s vague, hazy features summon questions on what lies behind the visible surface. The work’s revelatory title, Sham Marriage, further complicates the apparent simplicity of the spouses’ merged representation.

    Executed a year before his breakthrough exhibition The Great Circus at the Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art, the present work reflects the formal dexterity and seductive quality that propelled Gokita’s oeuvre into the global spotlight. A delectable example of the artist’s unique practice, Sham Marriage successfully coalesces the formal qualities that permeate his beguiling and atmospheric oeuvre.

  • Artist Biography

    Tomoo Gokita

    Japanese • 1969

    Best known for grey-scale paintings that combine abstract and figurative elements, Tomoo Gokita is one of the most internationally prominent contemporary Japanese artists. His signature works feature archetypal figures or groups with their faces obscured, evoking haunting film stills or magazine spreads. Gokita enrolled in a local art school in 1988, but dropped out two years later to pursue a career in graphic design. Though he found success as a designer in the Japanese music industry, he felt creatively stifled and returned to painting full-time in the mid 1990s. 

    Similar to the way Gerhard Richter used photographs as a starting point for abstraction, Gokita combines visual references from found imagery with his stylized approach, creating portraits that are both rooted in memory and rich in painterly expression. His precise technique, often characterized by abstract flourishes and gestural swipes, can be traced to influence from New York’s Neo-Expressionists. In this playful manipulation of form, Gokita injects a sense of humor into his work, warping the archetypal into the absurd. Gokita has been the subject of multiple solo exhibitions at many prominent museums and galleries, including the Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art in Sakura, Japan. The artist continues to live and work in Tokyo.

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Property of a Private Collector


Sham Marriage

signed, titled and dated 'Sham Marriage Tomoo Gokita 2013' on the reverse
acrylic gouache and charcoal on linen
227.5 x 181.8 cm (89 5/8 x 71 5/8 in.)
Executed in 2013.

£220,000 - 280,000 

Sold for £350,000

Contact Specialist
Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4060 [email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 7 March 2019