Kota Ezawa: Paint Unpaint

Dark painting showing three people sitting.
Suprematists (2013), gelatin silver print, 11" x 19".
A view of a gallery with an LCD screen in the left side of the frame.
Kota Ezawa's exhibition Paint Unpaint in John Hartell Gallery. William Staffeld / AAP
An LCD screen and a white framed image on a gallery wall.
The video Paint Unpaint recreates portions of Hans Namuth's film Jackson Pollock 51. William Staffeld / AAP
A row of eight square prints on a white wall in a gallery
Eight images that are part of the sequence How To, composed of nineteen evolving prints displayed on both sides of the bisecting wall in Hartell Gallery. William Staffeld / AAP
An aerial view of cars moving over a maze of gray and green roads.
Detail of MacArthur Maze, a 20" x 30" transparency mounted on a lightbox. William Staffeld / AAP
Suprematists (2013), gelatin silver print, 11" x 19". Kota Ezawa's exhibition Paint Unpaint in John Hartell Gallery. William Staffeld / AAP The video Paint Unpaint recreates portions of Hans Namuth's film Jackson Pollock 51. William Staffeld / AAP Eight images that are part of the sequence How To, composed of nineteen evolving prints displayed on both sides of the bisecting wall in Hartell Gallery. William Staffeld / AAP Detail of MacArthur Maze, a 20" x 30" transparency mounted on a lightbox. William Staffeld / AAP

Kota Ezawa's work references images in popular culture, cinema, television, and art history. His characteristic style involves reducing the physical and psychological expression of the depicted individual/s to the necessary minimum. The videos reconstruct each selected scene from his source material in a time-consuming digital collage of silhouettes. Through such media as digital animation, slide projections, paper cut-outs, watercolor, light boxes, and collage, he recontextualizes and distills these iconic images to their most essential forms, communicating the symbolic power they have on the collective psyche.

This exhibition features selections from Ezawa's work that focus on the protagonists of American modern art, as well as the European artists who helped lay the groundwork for abstract painting. Together, the works here create a conversation between electronic media and painting, revealing the artist's roots in painting as well as inviting the viewers to consider the boundaries between these mediums. A series of prints translate historical photographic portraits of artists such as Kazimir Malevich, Agnes Martin, and Ad Reinhardt into his singularly flat, pared-down style. Ezawa enacts a surprising reversal, printing in gelatin silver on fiber-based paper, a process that highlights the obdurate materiality of the photograph and transforms well-circulated images into more silent yet demanding display, underscoring a keen understanding of how images shape our experience and memory of events.

The single-channel video Paint Unpaint recreates portions of Hans Namuth's film Jackson Pollock 51 that shows the painter painting on a pane of glass installed between Pollock and the camera lens. Namuth and Pollock's collaboration could already be seen as a form of animation with Pollock's well-known drip paintings becoming alive as a moving image. By redrawing the film using today's technology, the video updates this 1950s experiment and integrates the painter and the act of painting into a new moving painting.

How To breaks an iconic photographic image into 19 steps, showing Ezawa's drawing process from the beginning to completion. Displayed sequentially on both sides of the bisecting wall in the gallery, one encounters either the construction or the deconstruction of this image depending on the entrance (west or east) used. Ezawa states, "Somehow I find it more interesting to look at something I think I know (only to find out that I don't) than to look at something unknown. By working with these images, I find myself tapping into an image based collective consciousness — a kind of pictorial glue that connects us."

Ezawa's work has been showcased in solo exhibitions at Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut (2005); Artpace, San Antonio (2006); Madison Square Park, New York City (2011); Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco (2013); Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia (2015); Mead Art Museum, Amherst, Massachusetts (2017); and Site Santa Fe (2017); as well as group exhibitions at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (2005); Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh (2005); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City (2006); Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2008); Queensland Art Gallery, South Brisbane, Australia (2010); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2010, 2016); Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC (2011); the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, DC (2013); Kunsthalle Bremen, Bremen, Germany (2016); and Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco (2017). He received a SECA Art Award in 2006 and a Eureka Fellowship in 2010. Ezawa's work has been acquired by institutions such as the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive; the Museum of Modern Art, New York City; and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.

This exhibition is curated by Maria Park, associate professor of art and director of AAP exhibitions.

Following the gallery reception, Kota Ezawa will deliver a lecture titled "How to Take Apart an Image and Put It Back Together."