The Giant Hovering Orb Paintings of Masakatsu Sashie

The painting above typifies the work of Masakatsu Sashie. I read a bunch of articles to see what other people think of this work, but, ultimately there’s a danger in fixing an interpretation to it, in which case the art becomes an illustration of an idea, or worse, a useful prop or visual aid for someone’s propaganda. Once people ascribe a meaning to a painting, they can stop looking. It reminds me of a story of the Buddha refusing to answer the question of whether or not there is life after death. Supposedly he said that people would just accept his answer, close the book, and go on as if he’d stated the weather. So he didn’t say. Thus, I recommend just taking in a few of Sashie’s works first, without attempting to interpret them, that is, to access them through the eyes before filtering them via the intellect.  It’s OK for art to be beautiful, and I’d notice how beautiful this image is.

Here’s another:

And one more:

What I think these paintings are is F’ing cool! You could say “bitchin'” or “bad-ass”. They don’t need to be making a political point in order to be relevant. Art is its own relevance, and it’s not easy to make something cool. Some will feel compelled to validate the work by insisting it is critical of consumerism, junk culture, packaging, swirling masses of plastic in the oceans, and so on. And maybe it is. But it could be all those things and still suck. Being moral, on the right side of history, doing the right thing, and all that is fine, good, and probably necessary, but doesn’t require one even think for oneself, or create their own vision.

I don’t know how Masakatsu came up with his spheres. I’m guessing he didn’t say to himself, “I want to make art about the environment”. Y’know, when I was in grad school, this is how we were supposed to operate. I was the teaching assistance for a beginning Photography class, and the students were required to come up with an issue FIRST, and only then to try to figure out how to make art to drive their position home. One of my favorite professors shared her realization, after decades in the art world, that the purpose of art was  to “persuade”. Nnnnnnnnno. That is the purpose of deliberately political art. That is not the purpose of Jackson Pollock. A lot of the purpose of art is to imagine something that hasn’t been imagined before. Masakatsu Sashie has done that.

How the Hell?

When I look at the paintings I wonder how he did them. My guess is that he used computer software to spherize various appliances and whatnot that he first collaged into rows. Let me just test my theory using my Photohop skills.

OK. Start with an industrial sort of image. I’m not going to bother collaging anything. This is just to see if I’m on the right track.

Sooooo, start off with something like a photo of an apartment.

Spherize that shit in Photoshop.

Copy and paste it in some other environment.

Ah oh. He may use a spherize filter in one program or another, but, this is merely distorting an image into a sphere: it doesn’t correct the lighting and actual perspetive. You would have to do that manually. If you look at the undersides of balconies at the top you are seeing the shaded underside of them. Well, at the bottom, you are still seeing the shaded undersides, it’s just the overall sphere that is distorted convincingly. You can’t be looking up at shade and looking down at shade at the same time. His technique has to be much more elaborate. Does he take pictures at different angles first, then collage them together? does he take pics with a special camera lens? Does he spherize a line drawing and then add appropriate lighting and shading? When one really starts getting sophisticated about perspective, it can be a bit headachy. I don’t think I’d want to do this technique.

[Update: I found some more info in the form of photos from his studio. First, here he is in front of one of his giant canvases.

Next, we can see he works from sketches and sometimes makes elaborate line art. Also notice the photos he uses as references:

And maybe he cuts them out and places them.

Looks like he’s using geometry and otherwise full-on analogue techniques. Man, I thought for sure it was digital. Nope. No shortcuts. No gimmicks. He’s doing it the hard way.

The whole point of this is not that I can figure out how he did them, maybe, if I really put my mind to it and did some research [as updated above], but rather that I strongly suspect he came up with the style BEFORE coming up with the rationale for doing so. Why is this relevant?

The dude and his work.

I read somewhere that the source imagery comes from his home town in Japan. I forgot what the city is called but you can get an idea what it looks like from his paintings. I’ve lived in cities in China that had a somewhat similar aesthetic about them, so can imagine going out with a camera and taking a bunch of pics of things that are aesthetically appealing about that kind of environment. I think he loves somewhat antiquated appliances, washing machines, and all that. If you’ve even stayed in, say, the Kowloon district in Hong Kong, you can’t fail to be impressed by some of the buildings, and the eye-candy that is the unintentional horror vacui (art term which means fear of empty spaces). Then I imagine he was just playing around, experimenting, and happened on this formula for making images.

I could be wrong, of course. I wouldn’t be at all surprised, because, as the Hindu’s have said, according to Huston Smith (author of “The World’s Religions”, formerly “The Religions of Man” but you can guess why he changed it): there are many paths on the mountain, they all lead to the top, and isn’t it wonderful that there are different ways of getting there. Something like that. Applies to art.

What I’m getting at is that I think he stumbled upon something bad-ass, and rolled with it. And THAT can be more interesting and relevant, artistically speaking, than having the right political opinions on a matter of importance, and then finding a way to express it. If you haven’t been indoctrinated into thinking art must be political, than this dis-indoctrination is not for you. Some of us need a little help gacking up what was crammed down our throats in art school.

None of this is to say that there aren’t all those political and social things in his work. There’s also nostalgia mixed with an apocalyptic, post-human environment, and his own personal fondness or at least intimate contact with the environment in which he grew up, and where I think he still lives.

When you’re an artist you notice how he develops his repertoire, such as adding mechanical tentacles in the image above. These paintings work on a purely abstract level in terms of balance of color, shape, line, form, composition, gradations, focal points, and all those other goodies that make up visual language art (and are completely absent from conceptual art, but that’s another discussion). And he will do night scenes with glowing neon signage.

Most the stuff I read on Sashie was so bent on tying to tie his work to environmentalism (I love environmentalism) that they didn’t make the obvious comparison between the orbs and UFOs. Several of the orbs, as above, have a conspicuous opening in the bottom, here possibly poised to beam up a cat, and smoke stacks on top [see below]:

Notice the opening in the bottom and smoke stacks on top, making this some sort of vessel, not unlike a UFO.

The UFO connection suggests the orbs represent civilizations, or our civilization, or more specifically that of his home town in Japan, or still more specifically himself – the individual as a capsule of civilization. Unlike classic UFOs these orbs don’t appear threatening, at least not to me. They seem more like individuals out exploring on a walk. They often have windows and the opening at the bottom could be used for waste disposal.

When the artist talks about his own work he mentions aquariums. Aquariums are small, contained, self-sufficient sorts of environments. This is similar to a UFO or space station or mother ship. It’s also similar to an individual, as we are also encapsulations of the societies we live in. If aliens did come down and apprehend us, they might be able to use their superior technology to extract a sort of holographic version of our world from the memories stored in any one of our brains.

What ever interpretations we might have of the work, I think the real meaning has to be found outside of language. We have to be comfortable never really being able to say what they are about. We just have to look at them, just as we would Monet’s haystacks.

Here are some more examples:

Wow! I’ll be very interested in seeing what he comes up with next. Is it going to be more of the same on a more sophisticated level? Or is it going to be something without orbs?

~ Ends



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