L.A. Louver is presenting a new, transformational body of work by Gajin Fujita. Created between 2020 and 2023, the paintings and drawings in True Colors demonstrate radical technical and thematic developments in Fujita’s oeuvre as the artist explores experimenting with shadow and line, the realm of social critique, and the incorporation of portraiture into his practice. This will be the artist’s sixth solo exhibition at L.A. Louver. The show opens on March 29 and continues through May 6, 2023
In this exhibition, Fujita’s distinctive combinations – Eastern and Western imagery and iconography; textual markings and graphic narrative; spray paint and gold leaf – persist and evolve. This evolution is most clearly seen in Fujita’s stylistic shift which employs shading as a means of delineation. Although still inspired by the forms and subjects of Ukiyo-e woodblock prints, Fujita moves from classic black outlines to layers of transparent spray paint to give his figures greater dimensionality – a technical development which reinforces the thematic emphasis on the interior life of the artist. Inspired by photography, memory, and the visual diaries his mother prompted him and his brothers to create while growing up, True Colors is a diaristic account which records the thoughts and emotions experienced by Fujita over the last three years.
Burning Down the House (2020) metaphorically chronicles the tumultuous energy of 2020 through the Star Wars Death Star, a fire-breathing Godzilla, and planet Earth set ablaze. Layered symbolism endures more surreptitiously in No Man’s LAnd (2020), a tribute to the Tongva tribe, the indigenous people native to what is now Los Angeles, and the local fauna Fujita encounters daily in his outdoor studio space. No Man’s LAnd plays a crucial role as it introduces the themes of location and identity, political injustice, and nature versus humans which are further developed throughout this body of work.
In #WTF (2020), Fujita depicts a geisha seated on a graffitied bench snapping a selfie with her be-sparkled iPhone while a palm tree burns in the background. Struck by the image of young Angelenos taking selfies with burning cop cars during the protests which followed the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, Fujita in this work raises questions about social and political conditions in the United States. A similar sentiment of critique is expressed in Game of Drones (GOD) (2022) and Mere Mortal (2022) as samurais, previously depicted by Fujita as powerful and skilled fighters, are shown at the mercy of powers beyond their control. These forces are represented not only by the dragon and demon in their respective compositions, but also by the appropriation and parody of the corporate icons of Chase Bank, Texaco, Shell, and Phillip Morris.
A counterbalance to this despair is found in the ascendant phoenixes in We Shall Rise (2020) and Ether (2021). In We Shall Rise, red and blue phoenixes dance together in celebration of unity and complimentary difference. Ether presents a similarly triumphant image as a phoenix rises above the clouds, transcending the earthly realm and the conflicts below.
Transcendence of a different kind is central in Home Field LA (2020). In Fujita’s first and only self-portrait, the artist depicts himself silhouetted at the corner of Lorena Street and Eagle Street in Boyle Heights, observing the cityscape of downtown L.A. as it appears from the house where he grew up. Within his silhouette, Fujita has recreated an undulating pattern in white and yellow gold leaf, metaphoric of water rippling, used for thousands of years in Eastern textiles. This pattern is an acknowledgement of heritage, an acceptance of current realities, and a belief in the future. Fujita’s self-gilding signifies an inner contradiction between the desire to solidify an artistic legacy and avoid being fully seen and consumed.
The next portrait Fujita created was Tommy Lasorda Tribute (2021), an homage to the Los Angeles legend Tommy Lasorda (1927- 2021), who managed the Dodgers from 1976 to 1996. Created after the Dodgers won their seventh World Series in 2020 (their first World Series victory since 1988), the painting also commemorates the pride and triumph of Los Angeles after a year of unprecedented challenges. The process of creating Tommy Lasorda Tribute (2021) informed the next portrait Fujita would create – that of his mother, Chitose Fujita. That these are the only two portraits Fujita has painted imbues each work, and indeed every subsequent portrait the artist may paint, with an undeniable emotional weight.