YEAR ONE: Tomoaki Shibata and Loren Philip, A Collaboration

Year One, Loren Philip and Tomoaki Shibata at Castelli Art Space. Photo credit: Genie Davis.

YEAR ONE: Tomoaki Shibata and Loren Philip, A Collaboration

Castelli Art Space

Curated by Peter Frank

Nov 9th – 26th


By Genie Davis

Loren Philip and Tomoaki Shibata are true collaborators. Where one artist’s work ends and the other begins is a delightful process for viewers to unravel.

Curated by Peter Frank, the exhibition was created over the period of a year, but the large-scale scope of the work appears hardly containable in any given time period.

Each piece is presented as an individual chapter or section of an abstract expressionist narrative. Some of Philip’s and Shibata’s work literally trails onto the floor, reminding viewers of the one stated reference the artists make, that of Japanese story scrolls.

The works are layered and complex, with two entirely distinct artistic styles that have been seamlessly merged into swirls and blurs and patterns of color and figurative elements woven into or emerging from each piece. To this viewer, the works resemble not only scrolls but tapestries. The interweaving of each artist’s singular style could be viewed as the way in which bold colors and figurative shapes are designed into a weave.

Throughout the collaboration, motion vibrates, as if figures could spring from a colorful gestation, or have arisen from it, only some fully formed. Some of the figures are humorous, some seem to be hybrid creatures, fairy-tale figures. Shibata is the creator of these figurative elements; he’s comfortable in his deft work, and as an artist, his usual work is large-scale. Philip, who brings the distinctive, patterned abstract colors into geometric play has worked in a variety of scales.

The works are hypnotic and exciting, in part because of the vastness of the raw canvasses and in part because of the way in which each piece seems to trail off, a subdued cliff-hanger if you will, leading viewers onto the next piece. The gallery has a feeling of connectedness that comes from and through the works; one follows not just a difficult-to-decipher story but a collaborative growth.

Along with the large-scale canvasses, there are smaller works that depict the same sort of enigmatic figures, as with a God-like face pulled out from a wash of gold, white, and purple in “Untitled 22.” In “Untitled 11,” like a humorous aside, a bowl with a mound of rice is framed by the words “Curry Rice.” And in “Untitled 09,” a face with a measurement indicated on it – possibly as a reference point to space taken up on larger-works, or perhaps a marking made by a plastic surgeon – fills the entire frame of the small canvas, its forehead not entirely fitting that space.

These smaller pieces range in size from 5.5 by 7 inches to 36 by 36 inches. These seem almost like visual quotes or footnotes, digressions taken from the main, towering works, which measure an astoundingly major 144 x 108 inches.

The most fascinating aspect of the large works is how they draw viewers into their world, requiring analysis and close observation to fully witness. A face arises from the arm of a male figure in profile; behind him a small, amphibious creature is mounted on what could be a river bank or a tree limb, in which shape a floating arm and a curved arrow both sail. In another piece, we see a skull-like shape that also resembles a strange fish, a duck or swan, and a random laughing girl behind whom more ghostly images seem to float.

Some works resemble figures floating through a watery depth; others, a universe, as in “Chapter VII,” where a large circular white orb appears just off center, like a planet or satellite.

The palette in each of these works is muted but lush, blues and rose and brown; gold, yellow, blue. Blue and a soft, light brown are the most dominant, most used shades. The overall affect is of water and dirt or sand; a sky of fading sunsets and shadows; the deep ocean floor or outer space recast in stained glass. We could guess at – or ask the artists to explain – the setting of each individual chapter, or we could simply revel in its characters, it’s palpable, almost child-like sense of wonder. Whether we are looking at seas of untold depths riven with light and shadow and dancing with fish and mer-creatures, or at a cosmos that has devoured and subsumed random beings, that does not matter.

The point here seems less about stringent definition, less about discerning who painted what first, or even an overall schematic plan. The very fact that pieces are simply named by a chapter with Roman numeral as designation, or marked “Untitled,” says all we need to know. These are encompassing stories that are up to the imagination of the viewer to define. They are the compilation of work by two talented artists on a whimsical and rich journey that reaches places below the surface of the mind.


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