Hiroshi Sugimoto|Playing with Fire

Hiroshi Sugimoto, Brush Impression 0884, 2023


Hiroshi Sugimoto|Playing with Fire

Tuesday, September 5 – Friday, October 27, 2023
*Closed on Sundays, Mondays, National Holidays.

Gallery Koyanagi is pleased to announce the solo exhibition by Hiroshi Sugimoto, “Playing with Fire,” from Tuesday, September 5th to Friday, October 27th, 2023. This exhibition will feature Sugimoto’s latest works from the series “Brush Impression,” with a rich variety of the character of Fire. In this series, Sugimoto directly painted kanji, ideographs of the Chinese characters, onto the light-sensitive paper with an ink brush imbued with photographic chemicals.

As a child, I used to play with fire. I had a vague notion that fire was dangerous, but the way adults always made a fuss whenever they found me playing with it only encouraged me to do so more. There was a girl in the neighborhood who sold matches. She was always egging on the neighborhood bad boys to commit acts of mischief.

As an adolescent, I played with fire. Under pressure from mysterious and hard-to-understand impulses, my reason shattered into tiny pieces in a doomed struggle to figure out what was happening to me.

As a student, I played with fire. With the student movement at full pelt, Molotov cocktails sparked our young souls. When the riot police charged, I fled for my life. I never knew I could run so fast.

As a middle-aged man, I played with fire. Soon I came to regret it and devised a different kind of fire play. Late at night, I lit a Japanese candle. It gutted and flared although there was no wind. I used a box camera to capture the entirety of the candle’s life. It was fleeting and fugitive.

As an old man, I played with fire. Knowing all too well that I did not have long left, I resolved to look deep into the fire. In my mind, the flames assumed the shape of the Japanese character for fire. I used fixer to draw the character on photographic paper with a brush. I always knew that photography was a tough business; now, after so much time and somewhat to my own surprise, I have discovered that it is also a means of manifesting truth.

Hiroshi Sugimoto

The genesis of this series is rooted in Sugimoto’s return to his New York studio after the three-year absence due to the Covid-19 pandemic, encountering a plethora of photographic paper that had reached its expiration date. His work does not allow the usage of deteriorated photographic paper, but turning to the allure of antiquities which aesthetics matures with the passage of time, Sugimoto ingeniously transformed this paper into his canvas. Sugimoto brought his calligraphy skills into the darkroom, wielding an ink brush imbued with developer and photographic fixer, writing his calligraphy onto the photographic paper, guided by his physical sense rather than sight.

This exhibition stands as an exploration of Fire, a theme that has captivated Sugimoto’s fascination since his formative years. Described by the artist as “A blazing flame is at once a sacrament of birth and an echo of a burned-out death,” Sugimoto captured the passage of time through the journey of a candlelit flame, encapsulated in a single photograph. In this exhibition, Sugimoto further extends his fascination by continuously writing numerous Fire characters, almost as if he is continuing to play with Fire in the dimly lit darkroom. Infused with diverse textures brought forth by an array of brushes, the letter embodies its state of, at times, “burning flame flings out its arms and legs”. Instant exposure to light imbues these letters with shades of light pink and red, transforming the gallery space into a tapestry of fiery hues. The characters of Flames and Ashes are secretly hidden in between, telling stories of various state of Fire that at times furiously burn with blazing flames and gently transforms into the tranquility of ashes.

Sugimoto has been endeavoring to transform his own interpretation of what already “exists” and develop it into a new form of expression. He refers to his method as Honkadori, a traditional technique in waka poetry involving allusion to an older poem. Rooted in this philosophy, Sugimoto has expanded Honkadori in his work. Commencing with Rinsho, a calligraphic method of practice used to imitate classical masterpieces, he delves even deeper by unraveling the origins of characters and transcribing inherent symbol of Fire itself. His creative odyssey draws inspiration from the ancient cuneiform script, Egyptian hieroglyphs from the “Book of the Dead,” and the sacred words inscribed on the “Ofudesaki” written by Nao Deguchi, a guru of the Oomoto religion. This journey culminates in a series that includes the matching of the phonetic “a-i-u-e-o” to the ideographic Chinese characters creating a poetic composition.

The Shoto Museum of Art, Shibuya, will hold a solo exhibition, “Hiroshi Sugimoto Honkadori Azumakudari” from Saturday, September 16th to Sunday, November 12th, 2023, featuring a series of works including the above-mentioned Honkadori in calligraphy.

The Hayward Gallery in London will host a large scale, major retrospective of Sugimoto, “Hiroshi Sugimoto: Time Machine,” from Wednesday, October 11th, 2023, to Sunday, January 7th, 2024.

Behind the Scenes Video
In this video, Hiroshi Sugimoto demonstrates his process for ‘Brush Impressions’, a new series of unique calligraphy works created in the darkroom.

Hiroshi Sugimoto|Playing with Fire
Tuesday, September 5 – Friday, October 27, 2023
*Closed on Sundays, Mondays, and National Holidays
Gallery Koyanagi


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