Japanese-American Artist Shares Deeply Personal Work at Summit Artspace in Akron

One of the most exciting things about visiting an art exhibition space is the chance to see something new or unexpected. This type of interaction doesn’t just have to happen in a commercial space, museum, or academic setting. There are, in fact, a variety of different types of alternative gallery spaces that offer a wealth of opportunities to view current research by working artists young and old.

the Summit Art Space in downtown Akron is a wonderful community resource and is full of works by living and active artists who deserve your interest and support. One of the exhibits currently on view is the inaugural BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) artists exhibit. “When We Share Our Wounds,” by Nick Lee “explores the portrayal of traditionally underrepresented people throughout Western art history. This body of work seeks to better represent Japanese Americans in through the portrait.”

Each portrait in the exhibition tells a story, which is linked through the person portrayed and through the setting in which the person has been placed. The layers and layers of thought and reflection and the artist’s meanings become more evident the more you choose to watch.

“What Was and Was” like all of Lee’s pieces in this exhibit, is oil on canvas. Lee depicted an older Japanese woman smoking a cigarette, holding a fan in one hand and a Chihuahua in the other. She wears a hat, pearls, a blue sweater and a red skirt.

The woman stands on one side of a blue river. Right behind her, hanging from a clothesline over the river, is a dress patterned like an American flag. Reflected in the water is a traditional-looking Japanese house, although none exists anywhere else in the painting. Above his right shoulder Superman flies, above his head a comet crosses the sky, and above his left shoulder the Goodyear airship flies as it appears to be on fire.

The landscape the woman is in resembles a mountainous region, which is perhaps made to respond to a historical Japanese landscape, to that person’s travels through the western part of the North American continent, or both.

There’s a lot said here that it’s almost impossible to know all the details about unless you’re the artist. However, the style of the painting and the thoughts communicated are so engaging that you instinctively begin to respond to them.

Another work that presents its subject in a mountainous landscape is “Introduction to Sir.” In the painting, a man, who bears a strong resemblance to the artist, stands waist-deep in flowing water. He wears a patterned shirt or jacket that features an American flag clothing tag. The man’s hands are joined and he has chainmail on his head.

Besides the mountains, two other important elements are presented in the background. Over the subject’s right shoulder is a flying bald eagle pulling a banner that reads, “I will fight forever.” On the left side of the man and sitting right on the shore is a bonsai tree with a locked cage for a base. The tree is in bloom and one of the flowers has fallen to the ground right next to the cage-like base.

This work exudes a sense of mystery, pride and deep contemplation.

One of the most captivating pieces in the exhibition is “New Expectations.” In this painting, a woman with dyed blond hair is placed in a dreamy rural landscape. A large billboard behind her displays a Japanese woman and her more traditional hairstyle. On the other side of her is what appears to be a person sitting at a food counter talking to a waiter. The person wrote “juicy” on her butt.

The main subject of the portrait stands in front of a row of yellow flowers. She is holding a flower that she stabbed, so that a small amount of blood flows.

Like all of Lee’s works, the representational nature, coupled with the more abstract thoughts communicated, creates a narrative that at first glance seems clear, but becomes slightly muddier and therefore more interesting the longer you spend time in it.

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It is clear that many deeply personal and vivid experiences are shared through the portraits in this exhibition. The artist shares his statement importantly: “When we Americans can see people from all walks of life in our media and paintings, we can better understand them and identify with them as people. When we share our hurts , we can start a conversation that we might not otherwise have.

Certainly, thanks to this artist’s ability to paint and share his own history and stories, this type of conversation can take on a deeper and more complete meaning.

Anderson Turner is Director of Collections and Galleries at Kent State University School of Art. Contact him at [email protected]


Exposure: “When We Share Our Wounds: Nick Lee”

Place: Summit Artspace 3G Gallery, 140 E. Market St., Akron

Appointment: April 8 – June 25

Hours: Friday noon to 7 p.m. and Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

More information: 330-376-8480 or summumartspace.org/

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