GABRIEL OROZCO, Suisai III, 2016, watercolor on gold card, 27 × 24 cm. Courtesy White Cube, Hong Kong. 

GABRIEL OROZCO, Suisai V, 2016, watercolor on gold card, three parts: 13.5 × 12 cm each. Courtesy White Cube, Hong Kong. 

Suisai: Tokyo Strokes

Gabriel Orozco

White Cube Hong Kong
Hong Kong

The Japanese-inspired watercolor paintings that make up Gabriel Orozco’s current show “Suisai: Tokyo Strokes,” at White Cube Gallery in Hong Kong, seem like quite a departure from the Mexican artist’s more well-known mediums of choice. In his older work, La D.S (1993), the artist pulled apart and then “restitched” a vintage European Citrön vehicle that was missing a chunk of its central components. In another blunt confrontation with material, Yielding Stone (1992) resulted from a plasticine ball, carrying the same weight as Orozco’s own body, that had been rolled down a New York city street, where its malleable surface picked up urban debris.

Across the two floors of gallery space at White Cube, however, there was an air of weightlessness to the delicate paintings that ranged in dimensions from postcard to poster size. Based between Mexico City, Paris and New York, Orozco, an avid traveler, is known for often creating works whose aesthetics and concepts are influenced by the particular environments in which they are created. His current series, comprising 53 watercolor paintings, is the product of Orozco’s past year living in Tokyo, following his retrospective that took place at the city’s Museum of Contemporary of Art in 2015. Curated by art historian and academic Briony Fer, the White Cube exhibition marks a reunion for the pair, who previously worked together in Edinburgh in 2012.

For the watercolors at White Cube, Orozco cheaply purchased their gold, cardboard canvases from a Tokyo art supplier. Their shimmering, ink-stained surfaces, sitting atop unvarnished wooden bars leveled just above waist height, lean against the gallery walls in a similar fashion as to how they were kept in Orozco’s Tokyo apartment. On the lower level of the gallery, the pieces appear to display a more concentrated use of watercolor paint. In Suisai III (all works 2016) daubs of pale green ink gather in mimetic forms of nature, such as leaves and reeds of grass, while pigments of mauve and ochre color portray the artist’s familiar lexicon of geometric circles. Upstairs, the works appear more refined, with spare brushstrokes like those of Japanese sumi-e ink paintings. Opaque pools of ink come to rest in shapes suggestive of a bird, a fish or sticks of bamboo. In a smaller piece, Suisai V, white and crimson quartered circles overlay washes of deep green and loose red and black ink.

Installation view of GABRIEL OROZCO’s "Suisai: Tokyo Strokes” at White Cube, Hong Kong, 2016. Courtesy White Cube. 

While Orozco’s art appears to be evolving along with his use of material, his earlier preoccupations with geometry and space still prevail. Emptiness is one such conceptual thread seen throughout the artist’s career that has been expanded in “Suisai: Tokyo Strokes.” At the 1993 Venice Biennale, Orozco first showed his work Empty Shoebox in which an empty cardboard shoebox is placed on the floor of an exhibition space. Explaining that he has always thought of his sculptures as containers of ideas, the empty shoebox not only functioned as a literal container into which some gallerygoers threw money, but also as a symbolic object that further drew viewers’ attentions to their surroundings. Similarly, Orozco explains that, when making the paintings for the White Cube show, he was primarily concerned with the spaces between the brushstrokes. Looking through the sparsely inked pieces of “Suisai: Tokyo Strokes,” with this statement in mind, one can see that Orozco’s geometric outlines and traditional brushstrokes serve to create and maintain space rather than to fill it.

The lofty ceilings, white walls and two-level layout of White Cube proved harmonious with Orozco’s spatial concept. While traditional Chinese and Japanese watercolor techniques were used in his paintings, Orozco admits that some of the pieces are “clumsier” than others. However, this arguably reveals his negotiation with the medium, as he explores the complimentary relationship between East Asian traditions of painting and his own geometric forms and artistic concepts—a narrative far more engaging than a simple display of the artist’s mastering of the medium. As demonstrated in his current exhibition, using local, affordable or found objects, and working within a set of constraints that shift according to different contexts, Orozco’s practice has allowed his works to be porous toward the various cultural contexts and traditions he investigates.

Gabriel Orozco’s “Suisai: Tokyo Strokes” is on view at White Cube, Hong Kong, until August 20, 2016. 

GABRIEL OROZCO, Suisai XIII, 2016, watercolor on gold card, 41 × 32 cm. Courtesy White Cube, Hong Kong.