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Weekend Recap: Chaz Bear Takes Tokyo

This past weekend, Tokyo’s commune gallery hosted This is Silly, Chaz Bear, aka Toro Y Moi’s, first solo exhibition in Japan. On Saturday night the usually very quiet streets of Nishihara were full and energetic, a summer festival and parade occurring right outside the gallery simultaneously with the opening. A beautiful interruption, and supplement to the playfulness of Bear’s work. 

Closely tied to the rise of chillwave at the dawn of the 2010s, Bear’s mixed media work filled the space softly, carefully. In some ways, it is a similar experience to listening to the artist’s discography. Not quite a visual representation or sound incarnate, but definitely a shared appendage of Bear’s musical canon. This is Silly is separated into three parts, a series of mixed media work: all in a slight variation of blue, red and white, a series of 10 pen and ink drawings as well as a small photo book published by commune press. 

When first in contact with the pieces, one might find as I did, a return to some strange haunted house; a relieving and also exhausting entrance back into the sounds of Underneath the Pine, Bear’s second album, and a weird, frozen sepulcher of my adolescence. 

The mixed-media works of This is Silly remain attached to this sensation while stopping for something new on the way. In stripping down to long petaled flowers and Matisse-like amoebas, Bear takes a bit of distance from the larger, fuller, pop-art shapes seen in past work, searching it seems for an asymmetry – and maybe a simplicity. Similarly, in utilizing blank space, the ink drawings of This is Silly become a kind of dream space of taxonomic reduction. The drawings are simple and elegant, united by the theme of an apple: either eaten, bitten, decomposed, seemingly rotten, compressed, expanded. Bear generated the ten works, each 12” x 12”, while in Kyoto. 

Depicting a story of an apple, the drawings have an animated nature to them. One that is akin to the palpable movement in Edward Gorey’s surreal, alphabet The Fatal Lozenge (1960); 26 illustrations each accompanied by a verse. And like Gorey’s drawings, Bear’s sketches are made up solely of ink on paper. The occasional spider, floating beside an apple that has become skull-shaped can immediately recall the spookiness of Gorey’s illustrations. In the alphabet, the letter A is embodied by “Apparition” but could easily have become “Apple” in the form of Bear’s occasionally sinister, while tremendously playful sketches. 

This is Silly is on view until July 30th. If you’re not able to catch the show, no worries – we’ve got you covered with photos to relive the opening and an interview with Chaz below.

Is there music that inspires your visual work? Do you listen to anything while you work?

Honestly, with music being my main occupation, I mostly paint in silence as it’s my escape from music.

What kind of narratives do you explore in your work as a visual artist? Are these narratives different from those of your music? In other words, are there things you find easier to discuss through one medium more than the other?

I think my background in graphic design taught me the importance of immediacy and I tend to go towards simple ideas. I like when there’s a bit of a puzzle or a coincidence involved.  I think the main difference between the two [visual art and music] are the ways my sense of humor can be conveyed. I’d rather draw something about death than sing about it. Then with music, I’d rather show a more humorous side of our desire for love than painting it.

 Does collaboration play a role in your visual practice?

Not necessarily, though when I work on things in my studio I have my wife, friends, and peers give feedback. I always felt that my visual art were products to be enjoyed, if you want it to be for the masses you need to be able to take criticism where-ever/whenever in order for it to grow and have the message be clear.

What has your experience in Japan been like?

This has been my favorite trip to Japan yet. It’s actually the first time I was able to make trips out of Tokyo and also meet new faces and set up a community on the ground here. 

Why an apple?

 The apple has so many symbolic meanings from religious to technological. I felt like the idea of the apple being a fruit represents the concept of an idea. A lot of my visual art has been somewhat abstract for a while and this is the first time I felt comfortable drawing something subjective that I actually resonate with. These drawings are the literal embodiment of a dying idea; the infinite loop of life and death.

Images Courtesy of Blakey Bessire. 

Stay tuned to Milk for more art happenings.

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