Hiroshi Sugito at Nicole Klagsbrun, Nov. 7-Dec. 12, 1998, 526 West 26th Street, New York, N.Y. 10001.
Hiroshi Sugito, 28, loves painting and painting alone. This makes him unique among the high-tech, hard-edge, Pop-oriented wizards who have emerged from Japan in the last decade. Sugito's depictions of a blissful, make-believe world marred by an almost burlesque violence look a little like oversize New Yorker covers. Tissue-thin, sherbet-colored, Candyland landscapes populated by strange hybrid creatures are punctuated by mad scribbles, faint arcing lines, and little bursts of color that turn out to be battle scenes. Think Cy Twombly meets Color Field painting, or children's storybooks invaded by Godzilla.
As you move closer to Sugito's canvases, a lot of action is revealed. Everything turns into something else. This trapezoid is a stage; those little smudges with white lines are tugboats pulling a house. Open geometric fields turn out to be land masses, mountains, or enormous prosceniums. The outbreaks and episodes of line and color become tiny, toylike battleships, rockets and war machines. And this dreamland of milk and honey dissolves into a surreal, comic nightmare.
Sometimes a cartoonish cuteness creeps in -- a twee sweetness that undermines the otherwise psychologically complex space. but Sugito still has considerable formal weapons at hand: his jewel-like color is infused with a shimmering aurora borealis light and his fantastically skewed scale makes everything look as if it's being seen from a giant's-eye view. These dramatic shifts set everything else in motion. In the pyramid tower, a wan triangle mutates into a gigantic Tower of Babel with teeny doors and windows. Typically, it is besieged by gnat-size armies. In elephant man, a cylindrical building transforms into a behemoth little boy whose arms are afire as he fends off bullets. It will be interesting to see if an art world that likes its Japanese artists snazzy will be able to accept a good painter simply getting better.
JERRY SALTZ is art critic for the Village Voice, where this article originally appeared.