Hiroyuki Doi’s work is an exercise in meditation as much as it is a topography exorcising grief. Each work is an exaltation of depth: meditative and obsessive while occupying a manic space that swells toward a calm. The five Doi works in the group exhibition, “Escape Routes,” currently on view at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center (JMKAC) and curated by Amy Chaloupka, were chosen to show the depth and diversity in his earlier work. “Doi was an artist considered early on for this exhibition in part because the Arts Center had recently acquired two of his works for the permanent collection and this is the first opportunity we’ve had to place them on view for the public.” She continued, “They are earlier, smaller works, and in combination with three larger works, the grouping of five really captures the trajectory and remarkable development of Doi’s practice over time.”
Doi uses Japanese handmade paper called washi from OZU WASHI, a shop in Tokyo that has been selling the paper since 1653. To create the airy and intense forms for his compositions, he uses a Pilot .005 DR Drawing Pen since they fluidly dispense an oil-based ink that facilitates his seamlessly organic forms. In 2013, Doi told the Japan Times, “I feel calm when I’m drawing and I can work for long hours at a stretch. Normally I do not plan a composition in detail. Instead, each picture evolves naturally, spontaneously, and finds its form.”
He left his culinary career to pursue the creation of emotive artworks like the five situated within the exhibition. Chaloupka explains, “Doi left a demanding career as a high profile chef to devote his life to drawing, and this had much to do with needing to find a way to cope with the intense pain and grief he felt upon losing his brother to a brain tumor more than 30 years ago.”
His process comes from his belief that work created by human hands is essential, particularly in a world so tethered to technology. “By drawing, I started to feel relief, at some point I started to feel that something other than myself allowed me to draw these works. Suppose every creature is a circle, which exists in this world, how many of them can I draw?” He continues, “That is my life’s work and my challenge. I have to keep on working, otherwise nothing will be brought into existence. By drawing circles I feel I am alive and existing in the cosmos.”
In “Soul,” there is indeed a cosmic quality as well as a cellular one that fully occupies the space on the washi as it abandons it. Comprised entirely of circular forms in a variety of sizes and spaces, the result creates tiny moments of levity alongside moments of languidly darkening depths. As Chaloupka observes, this work and the other larger works in the exhibition, “contain depth of space and absorb the viewer into a whole world as they allude to vast cosmos, or microscopic realms.” Along with the visual responses of depth and absorption, of the cosmic and the microscopic, there is also a highly decorative element within the lifeforms Doi injects into the washi. The resulting works guide the viewer through the ruminating mechanism of his seemingly unending circular forms.
Chaloupka situates Doi’s works in a section of the exhibition that muses upon the idea of “inscape,” a term conceived by artist, Roberto Matta. “For him, ‘inscape’ meant the creation of an internal, personal landscape that exists separate from the conscious world and engages its own space and time,” explains Chaloupka. “I feel that Doi’s work operates mostly within this [third] section of the exhibition, as he describes his process as trancelike through the rhythmically repetitive act of drawing simple, circular forms.”
The largest of the five works is topographical in appearance and occupies its own wall in the exhibition. Its solo placement actively introduces the four smaller works that follow. It acts as a map, spurring the viewer to approach the whole of the works as if they are complex terrains with islands discharging from the edges of the land masses and the blank space working as endless, oceanic cavities.
His “Untitled” from 2007 continues a topographical discourse as it, too, looks like an aerial view of Doi’s “creatures”. His process is evident in these works. It is impossible not to follow the trajectories Doi lays out and the result is an aesthetic kinesis. “The circles in some areas are astonishingly small, the detail intensely intricate, there is movement, depth, and a flow to these works as the abstract forms seem to billow across the paper,” Chaloupka says.
The larger exhibition that houses these works by Doi invites investigation of escape even as the five drawings by Doi are so internalizing. Not only is the artist’s activity in creating them intensely poetic and emotive, but the resulting works do not just invite but oblige the viewer to move inward. Knowing the impetus for the artist’s drive to begin making art (to deal with loss and grief) just adds to the works’ interior nature. These works exude a process, much like that of grieving resulting in a beauty that bubbles up to guide us among the terrain of human emotion and a complex soulfulness.
”Escape Routes” is on view through January 15, 2017 at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, 608 New York Avenue, Sheboygan, Wisconsin.