Shoko Imano

The painting: A Man-Made Skin



To what extent am I me (or you, you)?
While pondering this question, casually glance at your hands, arms, legs.
Unquestionably, there is something contour-like existing there.
Can it be true that the inner side of this thing you see is “me” but that which is outside is not?
Surely not.
Focus your eyes and look carefully once more.
Can you not see there the fragments of peeling skin, the countless hairs, the sunken pores, the wrinkles, and so on?
And what about the plucked out hairs and bits of peeled skin, et cetera, which are randomly scattered about nearby?
And that’s not all. There’s also the skin creams and cologne you put on this morning, the band-aid covering a cut, the makeup, the nail polish, and so on, which rapidly repeat over and over the task of accumulation and extinguishments that takes place on the dividing line of this multi-stratified contour-like surface that you are now perusing.
And it is not only in the diversity of textures that this is so.
Transparent things, semi-transparent things, reflective things, damp things, dry things, things that melt and disappear, things that permeate, things that moisten … Here the dividing line between which are natural things and those that are man-made cannot help but be fuzzy.
God-sent natural things and scientifically synthesized layers of quasi skin; artificially colored substances; plastic; silicon … in reality these possess a close affinity to one another. So much so, indeed, that you would be forgiven for thinking that in the beginning God-given nature actually might not have existed.
Put simply, the contour-like thing you saw was, in reality, just a boundary between the seeable and non-seeable. That is to say, that which is clearly visible is not a “dividing line.” Nor, however, is it a “boundary face.” This is because a boundary that breathes and interchanges between that which is inside and that which is outside cannot be simply a linear entity.
“Boundary layers” – Such an unfamiliar phrase falls on deaf ears.
The various things that are “seen” yet “un-seeable,” that “cover” and are “covered,” that are “hidden” and are “revealed” slowly penetrate the boundary layer, facilitating the stratification process. And yet, there is no depth here because, when all’s said, we are only able to see this “layer” from straight on – from the front side.
I say “side,” but really we should say “place” – when we scan over the surface skin, how will the conflict between formless feelings and tangible substances, shown in the space between the unique two-dimentionality of a painting and its flatness, be perceived?
These are the issues faithfully and patiently explored in Shoko Imano’s works. It is probably better to reword this and say that rather than investigating the flatness inherent in a painting, Imano tenaciously explores its surface skin. In other words, he works to give a “skin” to a painting.
Needless to say this “skin” does not refer to such things as the paint on the canvas itself, or a temperament, for that matter. “Index” would be a more suitable appellation – a kind of place, or non-place, that through the painting medium is manifested as a surface skin representing opposing entities, such as man versus society, nature versus the manufactured, interior versus exterior – opposing entities that interpenetrate one another until they merge and finally switch sides.
Throughout his work, Imano has unswervingly focused on this issue and, what is more, he has done so through the timely/timeless and highly materialistic medium of painting. It could be said that while the difficulties and possibilities imposed by this artist on himself are contradictory they nonetheless exist.





Take, for example, his most outstanding work “Package.”
Here, the painting reveals a damp texture wrapped in a pale, translucent rubber, which represents the man-made “skin” that is manufactured to adhere and continually intercept relations between two people. Put in a slightly more humanistic fashion, it represents a “dividing line” that both brings humans deeply together while at the same time keeping them apart; and while serving as a medium for both a wholly natural human act and artificial deed, that which is “inside” and that which is “outside” mutually interchange making it impossible for the observer to distinguish which, in reality, is on the surface and which is on the underside. The reverse side of this man-made skin – subtly curved and susceptible to reflections – and the drama held within the peculiarly tangible surface skin are superbly developed on the canvas via a delicate choice of hues, skillfully applied brushwork, and, moreover, the admirable framing of the work.
As a consequence of the interchangeability between the inside and outside that is made possible in Imano’s work, his idea of the surface-like nature of “skin” is easily transferred to a variety of materials and situations.





“Message,” for example, is a work that depicts a trace of lipstick left on an envelope. Through the surface-like nature of this impression, the viewer’s attention is divided between the relationship between the sender and the receiver, or in other words, that which is contained on the “inside” of the envelope and the “outside” that is a space for social intercourse. As we the viewer are on the outside, before we know it we find ourselves unwittingly gravitating toward relativizing the experience of looking at the picture itself. While seeing a picture from the inside and seeing it from the outside remain completely independent things, they are, at the same time, in coexistance.
It is probably for this reason that somehow Imano’s work is hollow.
This hollowness is on the whole quite remote from the “Incarnation” ceremonies traditionally carried in Western art. If we were to compare Imano’s work with that of Francis Bacon, who throughout his life’s work boldly pursued the “flesh” of paintings itself, the void found in Imano’s work is a materialistic one that carefully excludes anything that could become “flesh,” and instead spontaneously depicts the skin, and only the skin, of a painting.


Noi Sawaragi: Art critic