Yuki Yamamoto’s Paintings

Kentaro Ichihara (Art Critic) / 2017
1. Post Richter Paintings
Is there anything to discuss about painting after Gerhard Richter?
I do not mean to irresponsibly spread the idea that it is the end of painting since the emergence of Richter. Even though Richter is a major obstacle to overcome in contemporary painting, neither would I want to cynically turn my back and say that no artist would ever be able to exceed Richter’s achievement.
However, since Richter, not a single postmodern painter(*1) from a younger generation has taken a step ahead in the direction he pointed. I cannot help feeling that all of these painters, especially who emerged after the 1990s and had potential to do it, either turned back or digressed.
Witnessing such historical moments in painting with our own eyes, it would not be such a pointless thing to defend how much a genius Richter is. If one was to acknowledge that there are such geniuses as Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt in the history of painting, it makes sense to conclude that we also have geniuses in contemporary time. He is indeed a painter by profession, but how can one individual take painting to such a level of maturity despite having restrictions of the time? The only artists who can unsparingly present the bounds of possibility are those so-called geniuses(*2). One of the incomparable geniuses is Gerhard Richter. Of course, his sincere and consistent response to the question of what painting can do after a long period of strenuous attempts in figurative and abstract painting during the course of history has all been crystallised in his work.
I am not trying to say that there cannot be a genuine painting after Richter by praising him in the way that I do. Nevertheless, time moves forward (to the unknown future). Considering Eugène Delacroix emerged at the dawn of the modern after Goya, who lived at the end of the classical era, it isn’t strange at all that there would be someone, who would open up new horizons after Richter.
I can think of some artists, who could be the candidates. For example: Victor Man, who produces figurative paintings; Wade Guyton, whose works in abstract paintings; Gedi Sybony, whose paintings are somewhere between figurative and abstract. I would say it would take sometime before we see whether they would actually get that far.
Regardless, there might not be much potential left for painting as a paradigm of artististic representation whether in the style, method or content since painting has had such a long history. If this were the case, there would be no novelty in painting other than the ones that have already been done before, and even if they would still try to paint, under such circumstances, I imagine they would just reaffirm what they had already been ruminating in agony about painting? If it has to be this way, I don’t mind. Reminiscing painting with nostalgia is also a respectable thing to do, because it means that we are mourning the passing of paintings (even though, mourning lasts only for a limited time). This is as if the postmodern, which Richter essentially pioneered, starts referring to the styles and contents of painting from the past history without shame like a premeditated crime, declaring that not having anything new is the new thing. It seems as though it has accomplished, in other words, the time when there is nothing left to refer to from the historical archive (if this is not called the end, what is?) seems to have come to reality now in the 21st century.

2. Painting as Realism Theory
When analysing Yuki Yamamoto’s paintings, there is the question about image, which is also fundamental to Richter’s expression. But for now, I would like to briefly explain the characteristics of Yamamoto’s paintings, drawing on the Realism theory(*3), which is the latest of the influential theoretical current.
If we consider a referent (painting, in this case) not as a phenomenon, but as a referent in realism that is not of naïve realism, it is assumed that, in the realism theory, you would have to pay attention to the existence itself and not as a term of correlation (agency) of consciousness.
First of all, Yamamoto’s paintings consist of circles as fundamental elements, which are represented according to a simple but clear set of rules. It doesn’t matter what kind of rules they are. It’s not because they are meaningless, but rather, they are set to serve important hidden functions in viewing the works. These would guide the viewers to the cleverly laid out structure where they wouldn’t be conscious of any of them. In fact, these rules absolutely make the representations reality, but there is a chance that the viewers might not be conscious of them.
Naturally, if the painter informed viewers about the system in which the works are generated, they can make sense of how the works are formed. As a matter of course, viewers understand that the structure is real. Thus, the viewers aren’t nonconscious of the referent. There is no point in forcing the viewer’s perception nonconscious as neither is there any point in forcing them conscious. At the same time, the referent wouldn’t be completely outside the viewers’ consciousness. If it were out of consciousness, it just would neither contribute to the act of viewing of the painting nor be recognised as a consisting element of the representation.   
Therefore, Yamamoto’s representation with circles of various sizes and colour tones as the fundamental elements of the composition is perceived in the margins of consciousness, or, in other words, it is perceived not clearly but vaguely because of the effects of the actual relationship (according to the rules) of elements. Moreover, if you extend the linkage further, although the rules Yamamoto has set might no longer be valid, it will probably go beyond the viewers’ consciousness completely.
There is a system that generates this, and to explain furthermore, the structure isn’t that of structuralism whether it is in consciousness or nonconsciousness, but because there is a ‘structure’ that is generated by the rules that are beyond the structure, the viewers can certainly perceive the work. This means that Yamamoto’s work is beyond the realm that is clearly perceived by the viewers. The viewers would not understand what is expressed if they neglect to really see the latent structure. Considering that as precondition, what he needs to do is bring what he expresses to the consciousness. If my realist interpretation of Yamamoto’s paintings was relevant, what he expresses in his work would transcend consciousness. Not limited to the phenomenal aspect of painting, it would extend retroactively from the middle of the consciousness that captures the phenomenon, through the darkish margin, and then to the darkness that is external (outside the ‘structure’).

3. Once again into the Arena of Problems with Image
These paintings by Yamamoto as reality would only be developed within the image taken back from the invisible reality.
I suspect that how close the image can be drawn back to reality has an effect on how much they will bet on his paintings. Because, as I will explain later, the strength of his paintings is measured by the intensity between the images on the pictures and the reality that is connected to them. The stronger the tension of the transparent threads is between the reality and the images, the more what he represents would stand out in the paintings.
From here I would like examine Yamamoto’s paintings more specifically.
Looking at one of his paintings in front of us, there rises a simple question: there is a semi-transparent space with depth, which is formed by layered planes within a picture - is it a physically measurable space? No it isn’t. Because more than the physical thickness of the painting, it feels that there is much more depth in the painting, which is perceived by the viewers’ viewpoints. Therefore, this depth is not a space objectively recognised, but an imagined space. If so, would this imagined space, whether it’s real or illusion, be a reconstruction of the space that exists elsewhere in the world?
The answer to this question is clearly phenomenalised in his work. The intricate space in Yamamoto’s work, in which circles of various sizes are apposed and layered, cannot be found in the real world. Moreover, it is impossible to reconstruct the semi-transparent space created by stratifying circles with the surrounding space in the real world.  
Then, if the work isn’t the reconstruction of the real world, is it possible to reconstruct in a non-reality world, in other words, in an illusion? This could be possible. Only if Yamamoto’s purpose is to direct a stage of an illusion with his paintings. However, as stated earlier, his paintings latently include the external level of consciousness along the extension of consciousness, in which the work is perceived. This containment relationship cannot be expressed in unreal imagination (illusion). Illusive paintings can essentially be complete with just visible elements. Illusion can only be realised when an artist visualise an illusion that they want to see fully in the picture. Illusion is a re-construction of a world that an artist wants to realise. Therefore, the idea of illusion often puts on a bizarre face of hyper reality, but it leaves somewhat shallow impression on the viewer. In such representation, it lacks the invisible part (external of consciousness) on the back that supports the visible (conscious) part.
In Yamamoto’s work, this backside is considered. Admittedly, the representation is modelled according to the rules, which he arbitrarily applied. However, this model is a reconstruction of neither reality nor illusion. If so, isn’t this supposed to be a non-reconstructable space (image without referent)?
This ‘image without referent’ is something that Richter has been devoting all his life pursuing (*4), which Yamamoto has realised in his paintings. Therefore, it can be said that he is already on the same level as Richter. But of course, in a different way from his predecessor. Here the question is: Is he surpassing Richter?
By the way, if you want to surpass Richter, you have to know what he has tried but hasn’t achieved. What lacks in the ‘image without referent’ that he brought thoroughly into his expression was to delete matière. Richter forgot to suppress the evidence of the traces of the modern. The traces are evident especially in his abstract paintings. This is the limitation particularly seen in the time of Richter, and sadly, this is the bounds of human being, even a genius cannot reach the realm of god (although I’d already mentioned it is important to challenge the bounds).
If Yamamoto were a post-Richter painter, he would be expected to aim further from the point where Richter left and where any other artists after him have failed or ceased. In the line of expectation, if Yamamoto is to take this step forward, I would like to raise a question. Might his act of expression, which is meant to connect to the reality on the external level of consciousness, revive its connection to the real world at the border that leads to the back of the expression? He managed to cut all ties with the physical existence (matière), which Richter could not quite disconnect on the surface, but isn’t he connecting it at the bottom of expression? However, this is Yamamoto’s inevitable consequence from realist paintings.
I always wondered – if this is why I am always conscious of the slow sensation I get when I see his paintings as if I am drawn into the vision full of various rich colour tones.
Needless to say, this doesn’t mean that he cheats with his art. It shows how difficult it is for a human, who exists in the real world, to cut all ties with materials. What Yamamoto could achieve as a contemporary human being is to empower the strength in the ‘image without referent’ without cutting all ties from reality (otherwise it would just fall into an illusion) nor breaking off the relation to the real thing (reality), and form an image that empowers even more tension. Just like Turner, the British Romanticist painter, who became an advocate of the art of his time directing the tension within the picture by intermingling the representation of reconstruction and non-reconstruction between the pre-modern and modern, and by doing so,Yamamoto might possibly be one of the advocates in contemporary art.

*1 The reason why they are categorised as post-modern was, as Richter indicated the direction of post-modern, at least in painting, and they must have had to refer to the point, which Richter reached, in any painting produced after that, even if it means that they had to do so with a cynical attitude.  

*2 If I was to take the example from the retrospective exhibition of Velázquez that I went to see at the Grand Palais in Paris in 2015, the motifs such as Pope Innocent X and Princess Margarita Teresa de España, who was captured in front of his work, were portrayed strongly, and it was an extraordinary bounds of possibility that the painter had.

*3 Hubert Dreyfus/Charles Taylor, Retrieving Realism, Japanese edition (Tokyo: Hosei University Press, 2016) Translation under the supervision of Junichi Murata.

*4 The term, ‘referent without image’, was referenced from: Kentaro Ichihara, Gerhard Richter/Hikari to Kasho no Kaiga [light and semblance in painting] (Tokyo: WAKO WORKS OF ART, 2002)