Born in Yono-shi (Saitama), Japan, 1947
Died in Tôgane, Japan, 2003
“Things come and go, and some things endure.
Art endures when it has it’s own identity”.
Isamu Noguchi, 1976
Before me, I see two sheets of paper. Depicted on them are the works featured in this catalogue, reduced in size and arranged in chronological order. They represent a cross-section of a life’s work, presented here in 38 images. The period during which they were created spans the years 1979 to 2001. Purely by chance, they provide me with an overview in one glance, one that is less suggestive of painting than of the notation of a musical score. What I have taken out of my printer and put down on the table in front of me is pure sound, harmonies on each of the sheets of paper. One clearly recognises a tremendous sound in full concert, a highly individual hand, a highly individual identity.
Koichi Nasu was only able to gain an idea of his current position in painting and the experiences that had formed him up until that point after he was able to consider his previous life with art from a distance, from Europe. Once he arrived at the interface between Japanese training and European modernism, he was forced to attempt to find his own way, without being seduced by the flood of new impressions.
In order to better realise this goal, he did something that could be characterised as typically Asian: he nearly completely negated his personal will to express himself. “Unintentionality” is how he referred to this state. This is how Koichi Nasu began his journey as an artist into the Western world, a world completely unknown to him at that time, as if meditating, as if practicing zazen. He thus also distanced himself from the manner in which his European fellow artists worked, namely by focusing on themselves as an essential topic in their art.
It was, perhaps, the memory of a view of the earth from an airplane: of fields that appeared to be arbitrarily arranged, with lines and structures, devoid of any specific intentions regarding the pattern they formed. An arrangement that had grown over time, a symbol of the unintentional. His first drawings were like topographical maps. Viewed from a great altitude. Curves, lines, spatial segments. Silkscreen prints were created, and then reworked with acrylic paint and ink. There was nothing about them that revealed any type of artistic will to expression. Simple cartographical structures, and nothing else. It was a new beginning.
Soon, the curves disappeared from the works. They were destined never to return again. Only straight lines, angles and planes on square supports – initially his medium of choice (“Curves are too emotional, said Mondrian, and banished them from his art” – Leo Steinberg, 1956). Then Nasu began to reduce the “viewing altitude” from one work to the next. The fields and lines grew closer, as did – for us – the artist as a person.
This person initially began to be revealed in muted watercolours, as can be seen in the two works from 1979. In the meantime, the artistic treatment of the surface of the image had become inimitable. Koichi Nasu had found his own very personal approach.
Paul Uwe Dreyer (1939 – 2008), a professor of constructivist painting at the Academy of Art in Stuttgart, who was Nasu’s teacher after his arrival in Germany, observed this development with tremendous satisfaction. And he saw how his student opened up his teacher’s system of imagery, which was oriented on the plane and as static as architecture, to all four dimensions. At any time, the lines in Nasu’s works could continue on beyond the edge of the support and into infinity. This was even occasionally indicated on the wall next to the painting.
At least equally remarkable is the way he opened up the surface of the painting in relation to the dimension of depth. Using canvas, traditionally crafted Japanese papers, ink, water colours, acrylics and oils (applied opaquely or as a glaze), he developed a technique, the results of which are notable not only because of the their austere clarity but also because their ability to enchant the viewer. Nasu grounds canvas or nettle cloth with acrylic paint. A sparse system of lines drawn with a graphite pencil and a ruler already indicates the subsequent graphic arrangement of the work. Colour is applied to parts of the line drawing. The surface prepared in this a manner is sometimes covered with a sheet of washi. The lines and areas where colour was applied then shimmer through the transparent paper. Now parts of the line drawing are enhanced, additional paint is applied, followed by an additional sheet of damp paper. This may be repeated, in roughly the same manner, in a number of carefully considered stages. Transparency makes what is hidden visible. A metal ruler and a scalpel can be used to cut out and remove individual, often very narrow, sections that correspond with the system of lines in the layers. The effect of a very delicate relief that Nasu created in this manner enable his works, sometimes in conjunction with a transparent wash of colour, to unfold the enchantment already alluded to, something unique throughout the broad field of constructive painting.
Koichi Nasu’s works exhibit clarity. Straight lines, some heavier, some more delicate, form angles, intersect and define fields. A line occasionally diverges from the edge of the coloured field that it defines, parallels it and then returns again at an angle, sometimes even crossing over to flank it from the other side. This imbues the work with a buoyant aspect. Whereby, as I should emphasise, Nasu’s works are nearly always of a light-hearted nature. Colours, always muted rather than bright, animate this system as if from the inside out. Certain sections provide an inkling of something located beneath. Barely palpable indentations seduce the light, leading it to create delicate shadows. No one has ever described the fine character of these works of art better than the painter himself:
“My works are not intended to assert themselves in the world of art in a loud manner. Instead, I would prefer them to address the people who share the room with them, quietly.”