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Yoshiaki Mochizuki’s shifting light

Contributed by Will Fenstermaker / When the light shifts, Yoshiaki Mochizukis paintings come alive. Surfaces that seem like dull mirrors shift into prismatic events as light is corralled in the gouged layers of gesso and moon gold leaf. Exhibited at Marlboroughs Chelsea location, the paintings are untitled, but the show itself, Summer Solstice, takes its name from the suns passage over a languorous summer day, and the harsh-shadow trail it casts over beaches and sunbathers on rooftops and in city parks. These works, like sun-burnished skin, take time to reveal themselves, with the best, most robust color appearing only after the light has completed its course around the circumference of a body.

In Mochizuki’s new paintings, a pin drawn through clay, ink, and metal leaf scores lines that take on curvaceous and complex geometric patterns, as opposed to the structured grids of his earlier works. As the quality of the light changes whether due to a cloud passing by the sun, or an adjustment to the angle and temperature of artificial lights each image seems to morph from one possibility into an infinite number of mosaics, as sections are illuminated, alternately silver or gold or neutral gray. At times, colors appear. Flashes of mossy green seemed to materialize in Untitled 3/3 that werent visible during my first viewing. Or,on a hundred-degree day, chromatic flashes of foil fluttering in the draft of the industrial air conditioning animate the image.

After extended viewing, it becomes clear that theres a logic to how the paintings capture light that outperforms its simplicity. The light follows the direction of the incised canals, and the patches with the densest accumulation of these lines appear the brightest. Mochizuki posted a photo on Instagram captioned Work in progress that shows the unfinished marks, soon to be completed with ink. Where the coloring ends, the pattern inverts, gold-on-black to black-on-gold. The finished paintings perform the same illusion, but when the lines turn, light moves from one wall of the gouge to the other, creating an alternation between light and shadow.

The paintings are maps, and what we see when we look at them is the incessant activity between light and surface, which our eyes are accustomed to ignoring. Light itself reveals the painting, illuminating latent color, and suggesting depth that isnt there. Mochizuki says his paintings have layers, but acknowledges that what looks like a layer is in reality just a constellation of lines. In this sense, theres an almost-photographic element to the paintings, which are hung above eye level, at 5-9 the height of the artist. Like daguerrotypes, what we see is merely the trace of a body on a polished mirror, activated by light.

As the summer heatwave fades, the days continue to become shorter. At the end of this week, Mochizukis paintings will be taken down, and August will begin. Then, autumn and shortly thereafter winter. Well be left only with an impression of lost summer days, when the sun sat long at its zenith, touched our skin and coolly slid off, as day turned to night.

Yoshiaki Mochizuki: Summer Solstice,” Marlborough Chelsea, New York, NY. Through July 29, 2016.

About the author: Will Fenstermaker recently received his MFA in art criticism & writing from the School of Visual Arts, while working at the Guggenheim Museum in publishing & digital media. Before becoming a writer, he was an investigator for the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia.

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Two Coats of Paint is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. To use content beyond the scope of this license, permission is required.


  1. The idea that something “outperforms its simplicity” is one of the greatest expressions and compliments I have read in many years. Keep Will Fenstermaker on, Sharon. He’s good.

  2. Very nice paintings indeed! Painting straight lines like this is an art in itself! Would love to see a how it’s done video 🙂

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