“The flowers I collect here seem to insist on each other to compete for the instant,” says Japanese photographer Masatomo Kuriya. “Giving a new life to their parts, I tried to hold a moment of brightness, through all of quiet time and memories, for their death and decay, and also for their eternal life.” While the artist invites the viewer to a synaesthetic reception of his photographs, where beauty and image unravel and exceed aesthetic considerations, his works align with the current revisiting of still life as a constant subject throughout the history of art, one that ceaselessly changes its significance over time. Combining Western and Japanese aesthetics, Kuriya’s work is characterised by its focus on and poetry of object and mood assortments that share a distinct relation with the flat surfaces of the backgrounds. The photographs are full of grace yet their layered symbolism speaks less about the transience of life and more about the power of the moment. Proud, portly, and august, his artful compositions describe lightsome lines and broad forms; their undiminished presence exudes desire rather than sentimental remnants and, like in the case of Mapplethorpe, they hold the power to transport the viewer into a realm of the personal where alternative forms of meaning can be shaped.
In his seminal work Nature Morte. Contemporary artists reinvigorate the Still-Life tradition, Michael Petry rightfully says that “For many contemporary artists the flower in bloom not only encapsulates the notion of beauty at its peak – that moment before death becomes inevitable and the bruise overtakes the perfect velvet petal – but also alludes to heightened sexual pleasure, if not the orgasm itself.” Kuriya too sees his work as ‘portraits of flowers’ which can be seen not only as a symbol of grace, but also as a symbol of pride and arrogance, or sex. His flowers are the embodiment of human desire and a reminder of the never-ending cycle of pleasure and loss – the fulfilment, relapse, and repetition of sexual longings. Uniquely sensitive to the poetry of the photograph, Kuriya’s masterful compositions reiterate the idea of never-ending cycles in their illustration of the passage of time, yet they do so by clearly stating the power, the grace, and the nobility of the fleeting presence and the present. The illusion and longing for eternal perfection is most prominent in the photographer’s Black & White series, where the gaze confronts triumphant and all-powerful photographic sculptures.
If beauty has often come to be seen as trivial, Kuriya’s photographs portray its elevating and moving power. In the Black & White series especially, traditional pictorial strategies and the intense painterly effect are used as a means to question the traditional supremacy of painting over photography, eliciting emotional responses. Imperfections can be seen to bruise the surface of both matter and image, to reveal the violent gesture inflicted by the camera. The objects, flowers, and plants become pure image through their very stillness: suspended in a gesture of interruption, captured in the moment of their passage and transformation, these tableaux are sculptural icons that communicate beyond the matter or the image. In the hiatus between what eyes can see and brain can perceive, reality and representation need to balance stillness and the ever changing. Kuriya employs the traditional contrast of dark and light by allowing light to cast its grip across matter in compositions that remain strikingly contemporary, in spite of some being realised more than two decades ago. They freeze the tension between the natural and the artificial, moment and time, pleasure and loss, presence and remembrance to reveal erotic icons of the impermanence of all nature.
Text by Sabin Bors, May 18, 2015