Naoko Haruta and the Arboreal Imagination
By Steve Light.
The work of the contemporary Japanese painter, Naoko Haruta, is a marvelous counter to the prevailing indecisiveness that has beset painting during the last sixty years. With eloquence and equanimity, finesse and fancy, but with steadfastness too, the work of Naoko Haruta says at once ʺNo more fear!ʺ No! our epoch and all the more its painters need not assume that painting whether abstract or figurative must be self‐deprecating, timid, received, prefabricated, ʺprovisionalʺ, etc. nor need painting contort itself into crypto‐ ʺstrategicʺ poses and pretexts in obedient answer to diktats both external and internal. No, painting need not have recourse to any and all ploys of sterile ʺreflexivityʺ or ʺnetworkʺ or to the artificialities, petrifications, and abyssal and empty tediums of‐‐garbled word, garbled notion‐‐ʺcriticalityʺ[sic] and any and all ʺpainting asʺ, ʺpainting as ifʺ, or ʺas paintingʺ, etc. etc.
Just as, for example, the pianist Jason Moran in the field of music has not, in the face of the territories opened up and brought to historical realization by Cecil Taylor and Andrew Hill, given in to the false notion that Taylor and Hill and their aesthetics, having refused the options and permutations of fusion, of the electronic, and of the poly‐mediumistic, are now lapsed, which is to say that he has not retreated into timidity and obedience (ʺ…provisional, strategic, conceptual music…ʺ), but rather has with solidity sought to engender in his own way the full‐bodied work that Taylor and Hill carried out, so too has Naoko Haruta sought to create emphatic and full‐bodied forms in the field of painting and painterly abstraction where paint itself is freed from the coagulations of painting as mere involution and convolution, is freed and thereby set in motion once again, dances!
Lyrical intelligence and intensity and aesthetico‐existential substantiality are the supreme virtues which we immediately encounter in the work of Naoko Haruta and in the present case in her series of 103 paintings, Trees, a series which also gave rise to kindred and allied series of smaller works, Summer Songs and Preludes to the Seasons. Everywhere in these canvasses we find a poetic of the line whose every trajectory, calligraphic or otherwise, always resolves into a crescendo of charm. Herʹs is a poetry and poetics enhanced at once in and in relation to a spatiality constituted by a palette where each tone of these many and various blues and yellows, oranges and greens, ochres and blacks, whites and browns, purples, pinks, and lavenders sounds as a kind of utopia of tonal and tonic value and contrast, of dynamism and dilation, as the kind of gracefulness and graciousness, resonance and reverberance, seemingly achievable only in that privileged medium and temporality of music itself. How wonderfully the rich blackness of the action/expressionist and East Asian calligraphic line moves in spaces as lyrically fecund as the ones Ms. Haruta invents again and anew in each canvass.
Our painterly modernity had substituted an aesthetic of reflection for an aesthetic of value; color everywhere supplanted light and shadow. Yet, utilizing a profound knowledge of the Venitian and Florentine heritages as well as the heritages of ink and brush painting on the one hand and on the other hand standing in intimate relation to the modernist chromatic lyricism from which she so vividly descends‐‐the polymathic versatilities of Sarah Vaughan and Eric Dolphy could be cited as musical analogies‐‐Ms. Haruta has effectuated in Trees a union which gives back to us the compelling ʺplastic rhymesʺ of an ʺaesthetic of lightʺ (Jean Grenier) without at all sacrificing the freedom and dynamism of the spectral and prismatic palettes of our modernity.
It is a unique and bold venture, this series of Ms. Haruta, one which immanently employs and enjoins East and West and which surely places Ms. Haruta at the center of those brave contemporary spirits who refuse the self‐ deluded provisos to which art contemporaneity in practice and discourse gives itself in an epoch‐‐already unfolding sixty years ago‐‐of the total inundation of all forms and discourse in the modes of aesthetic modernityʹs conflicting and polyvalent projects of transgression, negation, disassemblage, zero degree reduction, purification, displacement, and preformed and postulated reversal, an epoch increasingly inimical to substantialist adventure and affection and for which substantialism, thereby, art contemporaneity has substituted the automatism of received and enacted gambits, gimmicks, prefabrications, and signals in a constant mens momentanea of indifferentiation and the arbitrary, i.e. Ryman, Richter, Reed, Guyton, Wools, Oehlen, Koether, etc. etc. Substantial: do we truly know what this word means when we speak of a person, an act, and especially in the present context, a painting? But contemporary art theoretico‐ curatorial reason such as it is disdains the word, the thing‐‐the substance! To say something, to say something substantial: Plotinus spoke of to timiotaton‐‐the most important‐‐and Lev Shestov and Vladimir Jankelevitch with so much verve and vigor placed this Plotinian watchword at the heart of their philosophical and ethical thought. The Most Important.
In Trees Ms. Haruta has chosen at once on the basis of existential and personal itinerary and enthusiasm and on the basis of an aestheticosophical predilection and trajectory an ontologically preeminent and privileged symbol of universalizing and universalizable import and signification, the arboreal, to serve as the basis for a rhapsodic unfolding‐‐and entwining‐‐of painterly articulations and adventure. And she does this not only to bring us back to the nominalist conundrum posed by all constitutions of meaning and sense, but above all because she seeks to give back to us both all the delights and vivacities of orthographic and calligraphic constitution while simultaneously providing us with the spectral intensities of emphatic painterly substance and sustenance. And this also because the arboreal always gives back to us not only the freshness and nudity of all original signification at the levels of idea, sign, and ideogram, but even more the freshness and nudity of all sentience, play, and delectation. And it is why I can say that one more virtue of these paintings is that without avoiding, in fact, precisely within and in relation to the artistic paradoxes of our modernity, they are able, assuredly, to assume and generate that intrepid enthrallment which can and‐‐again ontologically‐‐must (it was always the counsel of Charlie Parker!) remain, happily, an absolutely fundamental virtue of substantial artistic creation and engendering. Having seized on the arboreal as quintessential symbol and sign, but in a context which recalls that Asian art in which the East Asian writing characters (kanji in the Japanese) comprising a poem written directly beside or above a depicted scene are then stylized to the point of their total abstraction, which is to say to the point of their total expression, Naoko Haruta is then able to carry out as an accompanying leitmotiv a sustained analytic of the Chinese/Japanese ideogram at the same time that she advances a painterly poetic in all the variety and capability of its lyrical and chromatic‐tonal values. It is a marvelous vibrato and counterpoint that each canvass in this series
sounds and that is sounded by the series as a whole‐‐and we can think of more than just that ʺaleatory vibrationʺ of which Merleau‐Ponty too one‐sidedly speaks. The arboreal symbol sounds inside its own depiction at the same time that the Chinese/Japanese writing characterʹs depiction in expressionist stylization sounds inside both its own representation of the arboreal and inside the simultaneous depiction of the arboreal itself‐‐and this again in the ever changing vocabulary, intonations, and denotations of the series. Here figuration beckons abstraction at the same time that abstraction beckons figuration in a dialectic of undecidability and freedom the vivacity of which we experience not as a future promise of happiness‐‐or promise of the future‐‐but precisely as that promise that the most substantial art, Ms. Harutaʹs art, is always able to keep‐‐ here and now!
Language is original contingency and never the pure originary itself. But in the case of the Asian writing sign/character the hiatus in question can, in instances, remain the seat of an original relation. And it is this relation and privileged access given to it by virtue of the archetypicality of the arboreal that Naoko Haruta has seized upon as manifold and as means of her analytic and the discoveries and delights it provides. Because the archetypicality of the arboreal can in many ways be seen as paramount archetypicality itself! But if an analytic of character and ideogram can escape‐‐as an analytic of the word cannot ‐‐the ineluctable hiatus between original word and original thing, it cannot escape the ultimate paradox of all signification, viz. that the things of the world can only be constituted as things by virtue of an intractable hermeticism. And it is why in this sense Naoko Harutaʹs series encompasses in its analytical project this ultimate paradox, which is also to say, the paradox of all language and of all art: ʺSee in these silences/ in which things yield and seem/ about to betray their ultimate secret,ʺ says Eugenio Montale in his great poem, ʺThe Lemon Trees,ʺ[I Limoni] which Naoko Haruta, Italianist, knows well [ʺVedi, in questi silenzi in cui le cose/ sʹabbandonano e sembrano vicine a tradire il loro ultimo segreto…ʺ]. The great secret of things: that they are always on the verge…, that they seem, but almost always assuredly and at once, decidedly‐‐which is to say yet again that they will not by their own doing betray themselves.
Naoko Haruta has above all sought to put into practice both that asymptotic movement by which things in their sirenesque muteness beckon and seek us out and that asymptotic movement by which art‐‐as a butterfly seeking warmth from a candle‐flame must hover ever so closely while never coming so close as to actually perish‐‐beckons and seeks out that substantial content without which it can never realize a vibrant form (but which substantial contentʹs too immediate reproduction will always result in the destruction of all form in the collapse into the merely‐said). Ms. Haruta has sought out these unprecedented moments in which the spell of the eternal muteness of all things seems ready to break; she strives to show us how things, trees! (and in this exact sense[!], signs) look on the verge, in this one brief moment of penultimity when it is this other promise, of divulgence, which is‐‐ultimately itself!‐‐given to us. And in so doing she has striven to gain access‐‐by a kind of anticipation and artistic prolepsis‐‐to those secrets that lie on the far side of these moments about which, in fact, we have no assurance we will ever be able to pass beyond.
In a text, ʺRemarks on Abstractionʺ, originally delivered as one of three lectures during his Gauss Seminar at Princeton University in 2006, the French art historian, Hubert Damisch, put forth the notion that we have not yet truly taken ʺthe true and full measure of the quarrelʺ over abstraction that has ʺcriscrossed, enlivened, oriented, and…programmed the art of the twentieth century in its form as much as in its content.ʺ Damisch pointed out that originally he had proposed to organize an exhibition for the Centre Pompidou under the title, ʺla Dispute de lʹabstraction[the dispute over abstraction]ʺ, but that after an initial agreement the Centre withdrew its support and plans for the exhibition collapsed. Thus, Damisch noted, his remarks, his lecture, were the necessary result of the failure of the project. Damischʹs counter to this, the thesis that formed his point of departure, was that ʺeven from a strictly historical point of view…the problematic of abstraction, considered as an operative mode or as a thought process, totally surpasses the restricted area allowed to abstract art in the program of modernity, to say nothing of the temporal as well as the conceptual limits, thus relegating it to the status of a ʹgenreʹʺ Thereby, in this altered itinerary and trajectory Damisch proceeded to offer a series of hypotheses and theses in terms of sign, grid, and hypo‐icon and a developmental logic there‐in and this in the context of the arboreal as privileged image, sign, and symbol and in the context of its instantiations in Matisse, Mondrian, traditional Chinese painting (and thereby Chinese writing characters and calligraphies) on the side of practice and Saussure, Deleuze, Jakobson, and finally and crucially Pierce on the side of conceptual and linguistico‐theoretical plane. Damisch in his lecture gave privilege to Matisse both in relation to a Matisse exhibition in Taipei in 2000 in which ʺthe largest part [of the exhibition] consigned the painter to the figure of the ʹcalligraphicʹ artist, thus building a bridge between East and Westʺ and even more in relation to a series of ʺTwenty‐One Drawings of Treesʺ carried out in 1941. This series and its privileging of the arboreal is decisive because in terms of sign, grid, hypo‐icon Damisch pointed to the happy coincidence of Saussureʹs recourse to the arboreal as especially elected representative of the ʺʹtwo‐sided psychic entityʹ that constituted the linguistic sign for him: and this under the double aspect of the concept and the sound pattern, or as he chose to call it, the signified and the signifierʺ. Damisch elaborated: ʺMy hypothesis is that Saussure was led to select the tree as the example for illustrating his conception of the linguistic sign…[because] it derives naturally from the very structure of arborescence…[and because he] had understood the necessity of placing [signified and signifier] from the outset under the sign of the tree, which (to speak as do Deleuze and Guattari) never ceases, in terms of image, to develop the law of the one [the trunk] that turns into two[the branches], then the two that turns into four, in accordance with the binary logic that makes up its spiritual reality. The result, according to their book, A Thousand Plateaus, is that ʹeven a discipline as ʹadvancedʹ as that of linguistics retains this tree‐root as its basic image….ʺ
But it is more than a great pity that Damisch limited himself here to Matisse and Mondrian and what I would call the ʺrestricted economiesʺ of their itineraries and parameters when it is Naoko Harutaʹs series which I believe not only would have enabled Damisch to move from an exposition in provisional paragraphic if even at times epigrammatic theses to an encompassing disquisition spanning both conceptual concretion and even more‐‐and this is the important point‐‐celebratory exultation of the painterly at once in terms of the quarrel over abstraction, in terms of East and West, in terms of calligraphic and semiological forms and figures, as well as in terms of the constant relation of abstraction and figurative abstraction and in terms of Damischʹs counter to the aesthetic and historiosophically illegitimate consignment of abstraction to ʺa thing of the past [and to being no more than] an artifact of history….ʺ But even more, at least from one if not thereby from ʺtwo and then fourʺ(!) perspectives, Damisch might well have found that his initially conceived exhibition could now be reconstituted boldly and elaborately in terms of the project and realizations of Ms. Harutaʹs series itself. Damisch would have found in Naoko Harutaʹs series that kind of painterly generosity in which a commitment to and a virtuosity of movement and motion obtains in the unicities and unities of constituting structures and in a coming together of those most difficult of combinations, force and tenderness, force and lyricism, and force and all the graces of these leaps and bounds which‐‐as in the very best of dances‐‐if they return are already in flight once again. But in this movement which encompasses the pianissimos of Trees #21 and Trees #29, the ʺimpromptusʺ of canvasses such as Trees #40 through Trees #44, the ʺpreludesʺ of Trees #80, Trees #82, Trees #90, Trees #92, Trees #93, and Trees #102, the ʺballadesʺ of Trees #38, Trees #39, Trees #48, Trees #52, and Trees #65, the increasing modulations of ʺmazurkasʺ and ʺnocturnesʺ of Trees #49, Trees #50, Trees #54, Trees #57, Trees #74, and Trees #75, as well as the rhythmic speed and dynamism of ʺetudesʺ like Treesʺ 68, Trees #69,ʺand Trees #73, I must still and always single out Trees #60, Trees #61, and Trees #64, these absolutely sui generis canvasses which give forth both the full richness of the line in all its calligraphic and action‐expressionist vitality and the virtuosities of color and light which are at once and thereby privileged constituents in what is surely in these paintings the most symphonic kind of epochal realization.
[Naoko Haruta, Trees #38, acrylic on canvas, 48ʺ x 38ʺ (122cm x 96cm)]
Lemon Trees?! But in Trees #21 and Trees #29 it is the white‐winter sun which we experience, clear in the serenities‐‐and meditative soundings too‐‐of its grays and blacks.Here in the early stages of the series figuration is the more ascendant impulse and in the spreading lines and branchings of greyish white and whitish grey I find reminiscences of Mondrianʹs early arboreal sojourns but happily outstripped in sallies free of the freighted and fixed intentionalities of overly programmatic idea and programmed telos. Joy in winter, like the snows in Pasternakʹs My Sister, Life, joys and serenities which endure, enchant, as do the sweetest winter days sounding in the refrains of Rachmaninovʹs Second and Third Piano Concertos. Yet in Trees #38 and Trees #39 suddenly (ʺe ed subito seraʺ) it is not so much summer as orange. Orange: a color too often orphaned in the varous skeins of our painterly modernities is now welcomed, wealed, won! In Trees #38 brush strokes of black form the bulk of a trunk from which in thinner skeins first brushed and then poured black lines, black branches ascend and descend. The ground in blues and ultramarine blues, lavenders, and touches of grey and green unfolds in seeming panels and flows created by the black lines, tendrils, and their dances. In the upper left a crescent of orange touched with yellow nestles in branches, in lines, yet forms their backdrop while touches of orange, green, yellow, light‐blue, turquoise, red, and reddish‐brown flicker behind the central brushed form, figure, tree, as shadowing, and brighter yellows and in the upper center‐right of the canvas, oranges, green and turquoise play as light at once setting or perhaps emerging as dawn, amongst the poured lines, amongst the branches. The play of the yellow and orange amidst calligraphic and expressionist blacks, amidst the blue‐lavender, ultramarine, and lavender‐blue expanse is directly palpable in this play and dance of abstraction and figuration, of somber dusk and anticipatory daybreak, of arboreal solitude and arboreal splendor. Orange moon, orange sun, gather, are gathered, tendered and embraced in branches and in the branchings of duskʹs emultions, ebulliences, emergences where, yet, light still gathers in lavender and purple horizons that refuse to abandon the yellows of dawn and morning, while offering the suddenly darkening weathers of oceans supplanting rivers and streams. Black branches curl and rise and with their eddies of tendrils, black stars in the lavender sunset give further pulse to these chromatic leaps absorbing both sun and sea, semblance and sentience. Arboreal solitude? But only in the immediacy of mysteries that have given way to the emergence of all the secrets this painter now confides in us.
[Naoko Haruta, Trees #39, acrylic on canvas, 48ʺ x 38ʺ (122cm x 96xm)]
In Trees #39 orange returns but receded somewhat and yellows, greens, blues, turquoise, and reddish‐orange in brighter and brightened hues absorb and expand an emulsive ground of blue and lavender (although the lavender is less pronounced here) and all the more as if frolic and gambol were now sequence to every adjacent gateway and gaiety. The black‐brushed trunk is thinner and slightly more centered from the left side of the canvas and the thin, poured drip lines are more centered in relation to the trunk. Behind the black figure and forms, the yellows, greens, oranges, reds, and touches of turquoise and pink unfurl at once as banners or even as another figure, form, tree. Light, color, ground signal the dilemmas of a spatial here and now which is irreducible to locations that conjugate the thresholds of every suggestion. The mood is more sprightly here but the sparkling uncanny no less. Twins these two paintings surely are in that fraternal difference where each always in every available generosity points back to the other as primus inter pares. If Trees #38 imbues this play of dusk and morning precisely within a mourning overcome, a melancholy supplanted by tenderness, shelter, and embarkation, then Trees #39 with its less restrained dance‐‐and with a reminiscence too of De Chirico in banner if not mannequin‐‐quickens a momentum for every kind of expectant announcement and encounter.
Naoko Haruta, Trees #49, acrylic on canvas, 48ʺ x 40ʺ (122cm x 101cm)]
In Trees #40 and again in Trees #41, Trees #42, Trees #43, and Trees #44 the canvas opens up to a fuller spectrum and to more intense and intensifying oranges, yellows, pinks, lavenders, greens, while the black tree forms are given expression in ever thinner lines which course through the chromatic quilting and field. The calligraphic strokes and poured lines are more suggestive than demonstrative of the arborescent and meadows spew forth all the flowerings and seductions following upon harvest rains and the most intense of noonday suns. Orange? Pink? Who would have thought of them in pas de deux? Now we will never think of any other. Erik Bruhn, the splendid virtuoso from the late‐1940s and through the 50s and 60s, was, after his retirement, serving as a commentator for a performance of Giselle with Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov. During intermission, upon being asked for his thoughts, Bruhn exclaimed‐‐and how absolutely charming and unexpected was his exclamation‐‐ʺI didnʹt expect at all to become so emotionally involved!ʺ Doubtless Bruhn had danced this ballet himself many many times all over the world and doubtless he had seen it before his own stardom and after, and above all his performance in this ballet was absolutely decisive in his career and his emergence to absolutely preeminent status. One would have imagined he would have found it tedious to view it one more time. And so how delightful was his unencumbered, untrammeled, and spontaneous passion, emotion, affection, sincerity, and purity of heart‐‐avec lʹame tout entier. One might remember Makarova and Baryshnikov that day, one might not, but the charm, grace, and purity of Bruhn that day, well, that is life and the lived at their best. And so it is with the charm, the grace, the graciousness, of these lines, these colors, these paintings of Ms. Harutaʹs.
In Trees #68 the forms are more figurative yet there is a hum, a shimmering, an eddy that the two tree forms exude, exhale, embody, a velocity that emanates within and all around them as ground and foreground. It is a tableau seemingly still, serene, as the pairings of trees in their forest solitude and soliloquy, but the vibrato of the darkening color is ever enduring in this motioning of motion itself. The speed of the cubo‐futurists canvasses? For all that their velocities could delight, they were yet too studied, too cold, embued with too much affectation. But in Trees #68 it is nothing save the immediacy of exhilaration, an exhilaration at once painted and prime‐ultimate. For all that the tableau here is more concise, more defined, more formally described and positioned, its eddy, its instantaneity is all the more intense, invigorating. Does the wind move the tree? Does the tree move the wind? The conundrum, the koan, from the Milindapanha would tell us that it is neither tree nor wind, but the soul which moves, but while we can be delighted with the arrival point of the sageʹs disquisition, we know that we are ever the more delighted here where motion and motif move us.
Concerto? But now and with what splendor did she turn to the aforementioned symphonic! In Trees #60 Naoko Haruta decided to increase the size of the canvass she would utilize. Up to this point the paintings in the series had ranged from 3 by 4 feet to 4 by 6 feet, but now she increased to 6 by 9 feet. Laying down as ground various blues, yellows, oranges, reddish browns, and plums, she then set herself to the expanse and expansiveness of black dripped lines. But she wasnʹt satisfied with the initial drip line motif and thought to sponge the lines away. But she found that she liked the smudged darkening and somber textures and tones thereby created and she found that the wiped away drip lines remained as rechannelings of motif and calligraphic direction but now in the original ground colors slightly modulated and at times muted or softened. In this painting the storm and whir of lines and the darkenings ever lit up by the light of yellows, blues, vermillions, entice and intersect and combine with the immediacies of every visual joy. Oneʹs gaze is sustained in a delight that is at once fathomed and fathoming, being encompassed by the uncanny of a work that can only be exclaimed as the most enduring kind of the unexpected. Storm, tumult, entwine within an always supplanting serenity of virtuosity. Never before has the poured/drip modality been used so surely and with such dexterity that it could claim‐‐and enact‐‐an action not simply by definition but as drawing actualized, as calligraphic intention and realization. Now taking up brushes, she added in various places and interstices several of the ground colors, yellows, blues, oranges especially. There are moments in all doing and striving, in each and every gathering and concatenation, when the presto of existence becomes the prestissimo of our here and now, our on the spot, our now or never, having so surely‐‐listen to Ella and Sarah!‐‐hit the spot! Perhaps this is the hardest of all things in art and literature, to know absolutely that we have hit the spot, found the instant of realization that we sought and ever sought. But Naoko Haruta has found it here. Is this a perfect painting? She has painted so many! The two trees, characters, ideograms, figures, fancies, flights‐‐ever and again!‐ ‐intertwine and embrace, cajole and caress. Where could they be? But we know that we would not want to be anywhere else so much does this painting sound the rhapsodic within us that we would always have hoped could be found there. Storm but not stress, rather winds of color, eddies of wind and of a seemingly somber evening that in every respect is already dawn and its light. Trees on a cliff, intimations of darkening weathers which are yet spirals of expectations returned to us as the realization of invitations to joy and ebullient awakenings. Trees #60 gathers all the force of affective expansion and encompassment in this maelstrom and in this concatenation of calligraphic danse and eddy and this backdrop, this spatiality all at once in its truly bracing and embracing valence and vibrato.
The yellows, oranges, ochres, and reddish browns, greens even, and yet perhaps most of all the light‐blues in their ever expanding luscence, are used to conjure, summon, instantiate light and its aerations, as if seepages from an elsewhere deeper within the tableau and yet they are foregrounded in their clear brushed immediacies, in their twinings within the arboreal calligraphies and poured primacies and parameters. On the left side of the painting, behind the tree form there is the play of light‐blue as shadowing, in fact as shadow‐effect which is, thereby, already an other‐than, a something‐more, light! dawn! horizon! And on the right side behind the right tree figures it is yellow and reddish browns which shadow, double, stipulate in effect and affect, meander and mood. And more, because the thin black lines forming the upper and extended branches mix, mingle‐‐and are shadowed and joined‐‐by the dexterities and dancings of the channelings of yellow, pink, light‐blue, light‐green, light‐ orange, and on the right side especially, orange, in calligraphic twinings of enrichment and enticement. These lacings, these thin lines in their eddies and leaps, give the weightless leap one virtuosity after the other and this is one of the greater virtues of this painter, because the calligraphic play in thin and ever thinner lines is among the most difficult of all feats, yet in painting after painting she finds success after success, realization after realization, and not just here in the Trees series but in so many of her other series as well‐‐I think as but one instance, of the endlessly beautiful and delightful play of thin lines in cream, white, yellow, and pink in her dazzling canvas, Life #114: ʺLa Primaveraʺ.
[Naoko Haruta, Trees #60, acrylic on canvas, 54ʺ x 93ʺ (137cm x 236cm)]
Storm, forest, fancy, summit. Where is this? Upon what space, what khora, what khoristic life has this tableau at once been placed and which it simultaneously places? Sponged, strewn, stretched in seeming sectionings and in continuities of transluscene the blues, pinks, purples and lavendar of the ground suspend themselves above themselves as in an elsewhere that coils back upon not only its own immediateness but ours as well. And the purples running especially from the upper right corner of the painting down through the branches and branchings of the tree figure on the left and then through the upper middle of the canvas and then again through the middle of the right side of the canvas again through the branches of the tree figure on the right act as counterpoint to the blues particularly and the effect, uncanny in this seemingly unexpected chromatic variation, seizes and endures in the way it gives an ever more chordal chromatic progression in mood, voice, affect, and aura. And I cannot think of any other painters in our modernity and contemporaneity, indeed any painters running back through the progression from Kandinsky to Gorky, Pollock, and Mitchell and then onward to the present day who have used purples and lavenders with such effectivity, salience, and once again in the durations of the uncanny, the unexpected, and above all the immediacy of our assent and delight.
This painting all at once abstract and figurative, figuratively abstract and abstractly figurative, which clearly bears the imprint of a sustained and sagacious inheritance and formation, is yet without bounds in its unprecendented virtuosity and imaginative leap, in its internalization, in its shimmer of an inner and outer aesthetic and affective happiness. Khoristic. The adjective swells as do we in every homecoming which is also a departure, as Odysseus in Kazantzakisʹ sequel who upon every arrival including the final one must yet set out anew and afar. Yes, this painting like so very few others is arrival and departure all in one. Fearless in its permeable and absorbing understanding‑as‑practice of the historical skein that has made it possible, it is all its own in a something‑more of the not‑ever‑seen‑before. We must exult as it exalts us in its chorus and in its gratitude and generosity, in its kinship, in its own actualities of the choral, Freude trinken alle Wesen/An der Bruesten der Natur…as sounded in the symphonic 9th. And it would take the 9th to truly transcribe or give commentary to this painterly crescendo and cascade. Yes and yes again, because her paintings embody, inscribe, instill, exude the cascading feelings of abundant health where if longing appears it is only in the longing we feel to linger with these works or return to them after each parting, these paintings where eddy, motion, crescendo give forth the horizons- and immediacies – of limitless wonder.
[Naoko Haruta, Trees #61, acrylic on canvas, 106ʺ x 54ʺ (269cm x 137cm)]
In Trees #61 , a vertical painting, she has utilized a similar approach, where having laid down a ground in various colors and applied poured black tree forms, she found herself not completely satisfied and sponged away some of the black lines leaving once again the chanellings of the ground color, be it yellow, blue, orange, and so on. But now knowing that this would be the result, she was able to provide, at times, a kind of aleatory drawing, a drawing of the mediations of the blacks and various undercolors in furrows, funnels of intensity, light, motion. Returning again with subsequent poured black to bring the tree forms into a grander satisfaction, she returned with brush to fill in blues, yellows, oranges, pinks, and lavenders, but in wider areas of the painting than in Trees #60. Here the sense of upward movement is more pronounced, and there is a greater degree of light‐blues and yellows in the painting and thereby the eddy of the chromatic concatenation gives a plenitutde of light, flow, frolic, the light blues opening all at once sky, sun, horizon, the yellows playing in the branchings and branches in a shared delight which in times and in successions brings our eye in the windings of the motif to this dazzling section in the middle‐right portion of the painting, as rich a sequence as one could imagine no less find in any work in our modernity. Many viewers have invoked the experience of stained glass, so vivid is the coruscating ground and horizon, the interstices in the branchings and their projections. But this is actually too unilateral a reference given the wondrous exuberance of play and fancy in the most musical sense, entwined as it is with all the modulations of arboresnce, forest, meadow, and magnificence.
There are in this painting greater densities than in Trees #60, yet the concentration of the chromatic, calligraphic, and motivic proximities and predilections does not diminish the play and fancy. Up close the marvels of this painting‐‐and this is true of so many of her paintings‐‐continue in multplicity after multiplicity, in these textures, tendrils, tonics of chromatic and coruscating mix, motion, and painterly surges. Landscape, seascape, lightscapes, pure motivic sallies and sequences, in magnification, but above all and in every instant we find the delight of moments thoroughly unique, yes, hapax‐‐and above all and always, happiness.
The grandeur of the composition, the intricacies of the elaboration in all the sections of the painting, these lacings of lines and colors, the densities of yellows, light‐blues, and blues through which tendrils of lines emergent from the spongings of the previous blacks give a sparkle and whirring vivacity to the totality of the tableau. Yes, the blues shimmer and combine with the yellows and together with the reddish browns and greens and pinks give forth the light ever pouring, ever shining‐‐in syncopation, expectation, exhilaration‐‐through the tree forms, through the poured, the calligraphic, the brushed blacks which in their arching and upward force propel the tableauʹs ever sustained vibrato. And the effervescence of the blacks in line and brush carried and immersed in these webs and wefts of brushed‐in colors, where the yellows ever and always enhance the multiplicities of local and total effect and affect. This is the kind of imaginative boundlessness that we do not often find in painting today, a boundlessness that has given forth an arborescence beyond any and all arborescence. Force and tenderness! Hapax and happiness!
Naoko Haruta thinks that Trees #61 may well be among all her works her highest and finest achievement. Yes, she would also single out her painting, Life #105: ʺChopin: Nocturne #20 in C‐Sharp Minorʺ and I would put forth the declaration that Life #105 and also Life #16 are the finest achievements in abstract painting going back to and including not just Gorky and Pollock but Kandinsky as well. But certainly‐‐and this is why Ms. Haruta places Trees #61 at a summit‐‐ there are no other paintings in all of our 20th/21st Century painterly modernity like Trees #60 and Trees #61.
In the Japanese countryside in which Naoko Haruta grew up nature was neither tame nor savage. Here hours could be spent in a contemplation whose solitude would always become revery. But what was the greater delight, these countryside springs of cedar, conifer, and pine which seemed to invent anew, as if for the very first time, the most intense portions of the spectral band or the extraordinarly subtle tones of these green bamboo forests naked and tender after the June rains? Privileged instants such as these never leave us. The arboreal symbol? Form and expression measured perfectly to the the entire range of human and natural‐worldly affection. Trees? A history of these privileged instants, a history of affections, and, in addition, a history of that region of expressivity in which it is a coming‐to‐be and coming‐to‐us which is always truly at home. Easy to immediately think and to immediately say in the most compelling of ways that in her Trees ʺwe see the yellows of the lemon blaze/ and the heartʹs ice melt/ and songs/ pour into the breast/ from golden trumpets of solarity.ʺ[ʺci si mostrano i gialli dei limoni/ e il gelo del cuore si sfa/ e in petto ci scrosciano/ le loro canzoni/ le trombe dʹoro dell solaritaʺ] (ʺThe Lemon Treesʺ).
There are few painters today who can with so much verve and vitality summon the substantial orders and who can offer all the pith and all the pathos, all the empathy and all the magnanimity, aesthetically and existentially, of both our durations and the thresholds at once corporeal and temporal within our intensive and intentional existence. And it is one more reason why I believe that in this series, Trees, and in her two most recent and continuing series of abstractions, Life (which has now reached 215 paintings), and Sonzai to Enerugi (Being and Energy) (which has now reached 81 paintings) as well as in other wonderful series such as Light and Matter, Aubades, Instant and Duration, Africa, and Nocturnes (as well as in so many individual canvasses‐‐Begin the Beguine as but one of so many splendid examples!) Naoko Haruta shows herself to be the supreme lyrical and chromatic intelligence in contemporary painting.
1. Jean Grenier, Ombre et Lumiere (St. Clement de Riviere: Fata Morgana, 1968).
2. Hubert Damisch, ʺRemarks on Abstraction,ʺ [trans. Rosalind Krauss], October
127 (Winter 2009), pp. 133‐134.
3. Ibid. p. 136.
5. Ibid. p. 138
7. Ibid. pp. 133‐134.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR.
Steve Light, a basketball point‐guard following upon Nate Archibald, Pete Maravich, and Willie Somerset — and akin as well to Steve Nash, Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, and Earl Boykins — is also a philosopher and poet.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, February 14th, 2016.