“That’s a cat,” says Shohei Takasaki, pointing to one of the dozens of brightly hued canvases strewn about his studio in Southeast Portland. “And that’s a plant.” To the unfamiliar eye, these paintings are popping splatters of color juxtaposed with delicate, curvaceous shapes and careful linework. They’re eye-catchingly abstract, yet not immediately recognizable as a cat or a plant. But anything goes in Takasaki’s creative domain, from 3-D sculptures of fireplaces to a collection of pencil sketches of his family. His latest exhibit, Where Did You Sleep Last Night?, begins at Southeast Portland’s Nationale Gallery on Friday, March 15, with an opening reception 3–5 p.m. on Sunday.
The show explores the notion that it’s impossible to truly understand a significant other. “It’s impossible to know everything [about] your loved one, as we are all individual people, but we try,” says Takasaki. “We have never seen the landscape of the whole world in person besides the world map, but we try.” Fittingly, one of the pieces in the exhibit is a massive, 11-foot-long canvas: too big for viewers to see in full in the tiny gallery. Takasaki strikes a balance between such larger-than-life works (influenced by environmental sculptor Robert Smithson, known for massive land art such as Spiral Jetty, Amarillo Ramp, and Asphalt Rundown) and intimate pieces, such as sketches of his son or an egg he ate for breakfast.
“Since meeting him, I've appreciated his dedication to his craft,” says May Barruel, owner and director of Nationale. “When I saw the direction his new work was taking, meshing abstract forms and loose domestic scenes, I booked him for a solo exhibition.”
Takasaki, who’s lived in Portland since 2013, got his start as a graphic designer in his home country of Japan and has dedicated himself to mixed media artwork for the past 10 years. He’s shown locally at Upfor, but has also sent work across the world, exhibiting in Hong Kong, Kuwait, and Australia (and in his native Japan). He has a few permanent pieces at Old Town’s recently opened Hoxton Hotel, as well as at the Starbucks headquarters in Seattle. His Nationale exhibit will be his last as a resident Portlander, though—he plans to move to New York City in late spring for his partner’s career. For his part, Takasaki is excited to saturate himself in a city that’s always on the move.
“I sometimes feel like I'm doing endlessly wrong in my studio, but when I'm able to make some critical marks on the surface, that satisfaction is big and really addictive,” he says. “I have to keep coming back to studio so that I'll be able to get to taste of that satisfaction again.”
Mar 15–Apr 23, Nationale, FREE