Maki Na Kamura: “Caspar David Friedrich plus Hokusai minus Romanticism minus Japonisme”

Contributed by David Carrier / Born in Japan, Maki Na Kamura was trained in Germany, where she now lives and works. In that light, it’s not too surprising that she describes her work as “Caspar David Friedrich plus Hokusai minus Romanticism minus Japonisme.” Identifying herself as both a traditional painter and a contemporary artist, she notes that she might, on the same canvas, use both tempera and oil paint– two materials traditionally used separately. Her paintings and charcoal-on-paper drawings are poised between figuration and abstraction. The paintings are often centered on figures, but it’s not usually clear what action they are engaged in. Na Kamura’s titles are similarly enigmatic, as is the title of this nonetheless spellbinding exhibition: “Standing on One Hand” at Michael Werner. It may be hard to tell just what we are looking at, but it is obvious that her central concern is visual pleasure.

Consider, for example, Camp VIII. It’s easy to identify the two seated figures center to the left, but what of the enclosure behind them? Or look at the exquisite Shan Shui VI, where the small standing man at the upper right is submerged in a violet, yellow, and green landscape. As Richard Diebenkorn could transition from figuration to abstraction in successive paintings, Na Kamura can do so within a single work. What, then, holds it together? In a word, the answer may be color. Claim of Joseph I plays a large expanse of ocher against green, blue, and dark red in a stunning gestural composition. Unit VIII sets two shades of green against myriad colors, mostly dark.

Featured image: Maki Na Kamura, “Shan Shui VI”, 2015/2023, oil, tempera on canvas, 59 x 78 3/4 inches, 150 x 200 cm

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