A visit in Hidenori Mitsue’s studio. The artist is working on a series of new paintings. They represent a new direction, were abstraction takes control over the painted image. He uses two layers, back and foreground, which are mixed, mingled and blended. Colour and matter blend into each other in order to ask the question what is painting? Or better said, how should one observe a painting? Maybe abstraction becomes interaction and the juxtaposition is overruled by the concept.
Why do you choose already made paintings as subject matter?
“I need to choose them in order to make me want to paint my own painting.”
Simplicity is complex and difficult to grasp. The “superficial” simplicity of his previous works, their trickery and their openness are now being challenged. “I don’t escape the subject”, says the artist. In most cases, his themes are figurative modern paintings (images taken from the Internet). Yet, how aware are you as a viewer, of the painter’s intentions? According to the artist, the method of working with your subject matter should not be time consuming. But what do you choose? This is an important issue, because of the “permanent competition among artists and within the art world”, the artist says. Mitsue asks if, maybe, what artists choose as their subject could determine their career? There is a tendency to select subjects that possess a strong visual aspect, and that have the ability to touch the viewer emotionally and force them to engage with the artwork. And it is this aspect that makes them superficial in Mitsue’s eyes.
According to Hidenori Mitsue, it doesn’t matter what you choose to paint, but how you paint it. It is not about what is “out there”, but how to bring to the fore the subjects through painting. It is about escaping the ”domination” of the subject and showing the painter’s skills and experience. Imagination is not essential, in his opinion, but there has to be a balance between outside influences and his own thoughts and experiences.
We move further in talking about the context of his artworks: ”famous people make always famous artworks”, Mitsue tells me. The artist understands the context as: “what people see”. The relation between context and the artwork is not a structure one can change. It is a permanent development and inter- communication between the two, yet it remains all the same very stable. He considers himself an artist aware of his context. People are fascinated by culture, history, the great art history, the cultural pride and the artist is giving them this context (paintings belonging to the Rijks Museum collection in Amsterdam e.g.). The artist is giving his public a certain context, something that makes them doubt and maybe question his paintings. Questions and uncertainty are fruitful to his development. In other words, “why do people make a difference between a painting placed in a museum and one in an artist’s studio?” Or maybe is it more about pinching and poking “the bear” of cultural and political heritage. The majestic institution of the museum is questioned alongside the ideas of “familiar pictures”, that everyone recognises from the museum walls or art history books.
“I like to observe how people react on my paintings.”
The artist challenges his position, he finds himself in between the artificial context and his painted canvas, between concept and materiality. The struggle isn’t in the action of “painting” (both noun and verb, to quote Kosuth), but in the concept. There are so many layers in a painting, and the artist has to find the right strategy to deal with them. He finds himself in the middle, sometimes on stand-by in relation to his canvas. He doubts and asks himself: how far can you go till you reach the edge? An essential quality of his work is to trigger the mind and give the viewer passage into his painting. In other words, one could think that even if one does not know much about this painting, one can recognise it. The manner in which Mitsue plays with modern painting iconography is another strength of his paintings.
“You are allowed to come in, don’t be shy!”
In his work there is a clash between the “represented”- understood as iconographic symbols and the “representation”- understood as the “finished painting”. Mitsue plays with the idea of giving power to his public, letting them think they know more, while in fact, they are discovery knowledge as a result of his painting. He shares his feelings with the viewers, and in return, he processes what they believe and how they look at his work, in new visual representations. The permanent question remains: “where is my position?” The painter is painting himself in his artwork, while looking at his image in the mirror, surrounded by his public.
Another aspect we discussed was borders and edges. Artists cannot escape the issues of market and economical value, in other words, their works have a financial value alongside its aesthetic, conceptual and emotional ones. This aspect might dictate some borders. On the other hand, the artist says that: “if he is satisfied with a painting, he can do it again”. The greatest achievement is to be able to paint the picture “how it is in your mind”, and that is what matters in the end, and not the repetition or reproduction of images. He does not explain his paintings, he is fascinated, self-assured, and curious, he asks a lot of questions. It is not his goal to serve us with his interpretation of his own work because in his opinion, we all have different ways of understating it and that is what enriches it.
His pictures are unities, and they do not function in parts. The elements that formulate the picture are intrinsic related and there is no “almost good background, while the monkey needs some more brush strokes”. Some artists refer to their works as “never finished”, but it is not the case of Hidenori Mitsue. His work is completed when he is satisfied that it sent a particular signal and the process has ended. He does not come back to it afterward, yet he moves on to the next image. Whatever is not yet “good” or “completed” will be worked out in the next picture.
One should read his works as original because, in order for him to re-paint a chosen subject, he needs to understand and translate it. Painting “again” is his method of making sense of a new picture. He stays close and honest to his subject, while his painting develops in front of our eyes. This way, the limits are stretched and the borders are migrating to the next stop.
Images courtesy of the artist.