By Erin Fae
You cannot just look away from one of Audrey Kawasaki’s paintings. The women in her paintings stare you down and beg you to come close. You have to move slowly from their eyes to their lips to the other details in the paintings before you can truly draw yourself away. Even then, these works will probably stick with you.
Painter Audrey Kawasaki was born in America to Japanese parents. Though she grew up in Los Angeles, she has always been immersed in Japanese and American culture, and feels that both places make up her identity. The same bicultural identity seems to be present in her art. Elements in her more recent paintings draw from folklore and traditions, both from the East and the West. Kawasaki often says she is heavily inspired by Japanese manga comics and the voluptuous stylings of Art Nouveau.
Kawasaki’s pieces are primarily wood panels painted with thin layers of oil and applied graphite. The surface and textures of the wood are always accessible in these pieces. Her women seem to emerge and disappear into the natural lines of the wood. These organic lines make the already seductive work even more alluring. The woods natural color may become hair or skin tone, the grain the pattern of a dress. Only certain features—usually eyes and mouths and breast—are heightened to painterly opacity.
Personally, I want the women in these works to tell me their secrets. With parted wet lips and eyes that stare you down, nude bodies or barely-there clothes that could fall off at a whim, Kawasaki’s women are intensely erotic. While she incorporates some backgrounds and symbols, the women are truly the stars of these paintings. Some of the works could even be considered sparse, featuring only the ghost of a woman against the wood. In Asobiba (Playground), two women with pert breasts and slender hands play in a Sapphic moment. In Migawari (To Give Oneself), a woman about to give herself over to an implied lover lies among many outlined flowers, her hair disheveled. In the haunting Saying Goodbye, a young woman wearing a camisole walks through floating signs with Japanese words and lanterns, giving a look back over her shoulder.
The world that Audrey Kawasaki paints feels like it could evaporate off the surface at any moment, leaving you with only natural wood grain and a curiosity about those intense expressions.
Note: I chose to write about Audrey Kawasaki this month because, like so many, Japan is on my mind. If you like this work, I suggest following Kawaski on Twitter (@AudreyKawasaki). There, she recently linked to an art auction she is participating in whose proceeds will benefit the Red Cross.