Hiro Yamagata is master of the pop spectacle. In the mid-1990s, the Japanese-born artist, who now lives in Los Angeles, painted a fleet of Mercedes Benz Cabriolet motorcars with a cascade of flowers and butterflies. He has produced paintings for the Olympics and the 100th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower, and made an official portrait of President Ronald Reagan.
Hiro has collaborated on projects with Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and designed a set of stamps for Japan. He has produced laser installations in Paris, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Bilbao, Yokohama and Cape Town, some monumental in scale. He has involved himself with worthy charities for people with disabilities, for earthquake victims, and for orphaned children.
For the last five years, Hiro has turned his attention to the Bamiyan Valley in Afghanistan, where he proposed a $60-million project for a laser-beam recreation of the destroyed buddha statues there (fueled by solar power). But after several trips to the country, and meetings with government officials, he was forced to abandon the project.
In its stead he has been producing a series of somber yet beautiful abstractions, paintings done in black-and-white with rice paper collaged on 6 x 6 ft. canvases, seven of which are now on view in the humble exhibition space of the Tenri Cultural Institute of New York. These works, frankly inspired by Hiro’s visits to Afghanistan, suggest a soaring bird’s-eye view of a dramatic and desolate landscape.
The model of consciousness here is a profound one. As we can’t help but draw out in our minds a world of snow and shadow, mountain and crevice, expansive spaces and hollows of human habitation from this fragile surface of thin paper, ink and glue, so do people fill the empty present with all the imagined possibilities of human life. Nowhere is this more true than in the war zone. In these abstractions, in this "Atmosphere," Hiro Yamagata has uncovered something simple but profound, a model of the spark of creativity.
Hiro Yamagata, "Atmosphere," Nov. 4-30, 2010, at Tenri Cultural Institute of New York, 43A West 13th Street, New York, N.Y. 10011
WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.