April 2008

Hiroshi Kobayashi

Shigeko Bork Mu Project<br /><br />Washington, D.C.<br /><br />Hiroshi Kobayashi takes cuddly stuffed pandas, teddy bears and kittens as his subjects, but these aren’t feel-good paintings. He wrenches them into acrobatic positions that suggest dancing or sex or violence, photographs them floating in space, and then reproduces the images in oil or acrylic on canvas. Strangely charming and funny, the works smartly invoke debauched innocence without resorting to narratives of disturbed childhood.<br /><br />Using a photorealistic technique, Kobayashi renders many of his twisted toys in a kid-friendly palette of lavender, baby blue, and teal. In the sprawling <em>Spring Rain</em> (2007), a Raggedy Ann doll carries a basket of what could be Easter eggs as other toys in various contortions float about. The antiseptic white background lends the scene an anxious feeling of dislocation.<br /><br />Other works have faint horizontal lines stretching across the canvas as if Kobayashi were depicting the toys as seen on video. The exquisite <em>Jelly</em> (2007) shows a lime green panda sitting in a field of red lines with the shiny, viscous quality of raspberry jelly. These works focus more on design than on figuration, and Kobayashi pulls them off with panache.<br /><br />Crowded into two small rooms, the show had only one problem – its narrow range. The Tokyo-based artist is also a talented sculptor, and he deserves greater exposure.<br /><br />–Roger Atwood