Koichi Nasu: Retrospective

3 September - 2 October 2021

Thoughts on Koichi Nasu

“When, in the picture, a line is freed of its function as characterizing something and acts as a thing in its own right, its inner resonance is not weakened by supporting roles of any kind and it can develop its full inner vigor.”
Wassily Kandinsky, Über die Formfrage (in Der Blaue Reiter, 1912)

Inner resonance is poetry.
When I saw a picture by Koichi Nasu for the first time, it put me in mind of a music score. Nevertheless, at the time I put this thought out of my mind and restricted myself to writing about the artist’s poetry of pure painting. However, now Kandinsky’s words have once again presented me with an opportunity of turning my attention to Nasu.

This artist’s pictures are characterized by lines, lines applied either emphatically or delicately. In the majority of cases, color fields have been arranged underneath the lines and these color fields are ever intent on their own agendas, quite independently of the lines themselves. Their hues are almost always understated, delicately executed in watercolors or finished off with fine acrylic, or, less frequently, in India ink, which is then black and extremely dominant. The colors have been organized in such a way as to harmonize with the rectangle of the picture’s outer edges, with strong colors always positioned opposite a light field of corresponding dimensions. This ensures that color alone conveys a sense of repose.

Nevertheless, color is never alone in Nasu’s pictures. Indeed, the lines are also in evidence and the latter are intent on existing on a level that is, in a manner of speaking, beyond color and as they themselves see fit. We could even almost say that this artist is primarily a draftsman. Indeed, it is with this system of lines that he imbues every one of his pictures, achieving that wonderful vibrancy that characterizes his entire oeuvre. These lines do not delineate the shape of any “things” as such. They are not a way of expressing a higher idea with a geometric, construction-oriented agenda. They simply take their cue from the shapes in the colorful picture over which they spread out in whatever way suits them. They play with the latter’s appearance. They freely swap color fields, explore expanses that are light and dark. We consistently see them as straight and angled lines. Or, extremely infrequently, as gentle curves drawn with a pair of compasses.

Koichi Nasu died in 2003. However, for me he comes alive through his pictures. Nasu is Japanese. For the most part, he learnt his trade in Europe, but we can see the influence of the Japanese approach on his artistic training in almost all his pictures.

You may know the story about the monk who was set a task by his abbot: He was tasked with getting rid of the leaves lying on the path to the temple. When the monk had finished his work and showed it to the abbot the latter reached into the freshly filled basket, took out a few of the leaves again, scattered them with a flick of his wrist and said, “It is only now that your work is done!”

Once again, it is the lines. It is because of them that we can see how for Nasu “the leaves on the path to the temple” became apparent. Of course, for him it will not have been leaves but doubtless some encounter, some realization in his life, whenever or wherever that might have been. What I am talking about is the fundamental essence of his lines. Follow them with your eyes and look at the little changes in direction. What he was doing with the idea about this minute gesture was scattering his own handful of leaves on the path.

The artist, is he an exponent of Geometric Constructivism? That might be our initial thought when encountering his pictures. And then we discover something that would have pleased Kandinsky – the lines in Nasu’s pictures really do go completely in their own directions. Indeed, although they follow the ruler for a while, they then shift it imperceptibly and move on, leaving behind them an obtuse angle of some 179 degrees. Thus, the move across the picture on their way to what Kandinsky described as that “inner resonance”. This possibly goes some way towards explaining my initial impression of the scores for contemporary music.

Peter Cornell Richter, 2021