In his second New York exhibition, Sebastian Masuda invites his viewer to trade the grayscale of daily life for a movingly vibrant spectrum of color. His work refuses passive observation; it engages its audience and invites them to step into his colorful vision of kawaii. These tactile compositions mark the threshold between the careful, repressed order of reality and the vibrant freedom of the kawaii spirit, one of rich emotion and tangible human connection. Masuda believes that color is constrained by modern life, confined and muted by expanses of asphalt and gray buildings. For him, color is a powerful vehicle for emotions and its expression is a rare form of rebellion: one without weapons or victims. For the observer to engage in his work is to join this rebellion. Ronin Gallery is pleased to present True Colors: Sebastian Masuda in association with Asia Contemporary Art Week. Through dynamic multimedia collages, this truly immersive exhibition extols Masuda's message of "colorful rebellion" against the gray, dark, and disharmony of the world.
The exhibition True Colors consists of three distinct series: Colorful Rebellion, True Colors, and Emotion. Masuda began the Colorful Rebellion series in 2011. Drawing on his vision behind 6%DOKIDOKI, these works do not use paint or typical art supplies. Instead, they rely solely on commercial objects, from neon Legos to pastel plush animals. In the True Colors series, Masuda embraces the colors often deemed "venomous and too chemical." He refutes this association, recognizing their legacy in pre-World War II Japan. He believes that these striking colors have been lost to modern society, extracted from the human heart by war. This series reintroduces its beholder to these passionate shades. Finally, in the Emotion series, Masuda expresses his personal kawaii and the emotional undercurrents that fester within each of us. From anger to jealousy, this series acknowledges the intertwined nature of light and dark. Kawaii is not merely external loveliness, rather, it is a rebellion born to combat and balance the darkness. The powerful spirit of kawaii is exemplified in this contrast.
Sebastian Masuda, More is More, from the series Colorful Rebellion, 2016. Ronin Gallery.
Kawaii is an influential and subversive culture in dialogue with centuries of Japanese popular culture. The idea can be traced back to the Heian period (794-1185), to a new genre of popular court literature that focused on details of daily life. In The Pillow Book, the court lady Sei Shonagon describes "the behavior of a chirping sparrow, the small leaf of a crest..."  as utsukushii, referring to simple moments that stirred the heart. During the Taisho period (1912-1926) utsukushii developed into kawayushi, before arriving at the current kawaii. Throughout its development, kawaii came to describe things that evoke feelings of care, love and protectiveness.  In recent scholarship, the contemporary kawaii culture is often linked to 1914, to a stationary shop in Tokyo that specialized in "fancy" items. Today's movement attracts audiences of all ages worldwide, existing in many different iterations and influences.
Sebastian Masuda, Satsuma, from the series True Colors, 2015. Ronin Gallery.
While often translated to "cute," in English, this translation is a misnomer. Masuda's definition of kawaii is distinct from that which rose in the commercial kawaii of the 1980s. Instead, his definition focuses on a spirit of kawaii, continuing a powerful narrative of Japanese pop culture that bloomed during the Edo period (1603-1868). Ukiyo-e captured the demimonde of "the floating world," a popular culture distinct from courtly life. In his work, Masuda echoes the creativity and contemporaneity of the ukiyo-e artists before him, embracing a special, vibrant realm: the kawaii subculture. Within a bright and sensational visual layer, the kawaii spirit is akin to that of the punk or hippie movement, a rebellion against the norms and standards of mainstream culture.
Born in Chiba in 1970, Masuda is a contemporary artist and father of kawaii culture. In 1995, he opened his now iconic store, 6%DOKIDOKI, and his boundless imagination sparked a unique and thriving community. Though it began as a display space, collecting cute items and intriguing objects from all over the world, the shop began to shape Harajuku fashion. Characterized by bright colors and youthful and funky clothing, Masuda's artistic vision permeated Japanese pop culture. Over the past 20 years, Masuda has explored this vision across stage, screen, and museums worldwide. From music videos with pop icons, to a giant Hello Kitty in New York, Masuda's work revives a childlike sense of wonderment in his audience and impels participation. As his mediums and methods continue to evolve, his collaborative practice remains at the core of his work. Masuda plays on the major channels of pop culture to engage a vast audience in his unique vision. He designs visuals for some of Japan's top brands, sets for film and theater, and the videos of superstar Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.
Sebastian Masuda, Destroy #1, from the series Emotion, 2016. Ronin Gallery.
An unstoppable creative force and exceptional contemporary talent, Masuda speaks internationally at museums, conferences and other events. His solo exhibitions include last year's wildly popular Colorful Rebellion: Seventh Nightmare, held in Milan, Miami and New York, and Acchi to Kocchi (2016) in Tokyo. In New York, over 1,000 followers lined up to experience his installation in the winter chill. His ongoing project, Time After Time Capsule, consists of ten enormous kawaii time capsules to be filled with items personalized by the inhabitants of ten cities worldwide. In 2020, each time capsule will return to Tokyo to be assembled into a sculpture for the Olympic Games. True Colors presents the latest evolution in Masuda's oeuvre, extolling Masuda's message that "color carries an emotional impact and frees the mind." He invites the spectator to surrender to this power, to rebel against the darkness, and to "always hold a revolution in your own heart."
1. Grau, Oliver. Imagery in the 21st Century. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2011. Print.
2. Iwata-Weickgenannt, Kristina. Visions of Precarity in Japanese Popular Culture and Literature. Abingdon, Oxon ; New York: Routledge, 2015. Print.
3. Okazaki, Manami. Kawaii!: Japan's Culture of Cute. Munich; New York: Prestel, 2013. Print.
4. Richie, Donald. The Image Factory : Fads and Fashions in Japan. London: Reaktion, 2003. Print.
5. Thomas, Samuel. "Let's Talk 100 Percent Kawaii!" The Japan Times. 2 July 2013. Web. 13 Sept. 2016.