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David Nakabayashi
at Box Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Review by Alex Ross

David Nakabayashi's current exhibition, 'Winterstate,' connects personal trauma to the feeling of a nation whose dreams are now uncertain.

Apparently fueled by an existential realization of humanity\'s social fragmentation, David Nakabayashi’s current exhibition marshalls painting as a mode of expiating trauma. In his artist statement for \"Winterstate,\" the artist cites as inspiration a moment of personal reflection while stranded at an Ohio truck-stop restaurant. There Nakabayashi experienced the destruction of his car by an oncoming driver momentarily blinded by a winter ice storm. Though unharmed, he found himself agitated and alone, and came to analogize this scenario of smash-up and solitude with his own artistic practice. The current paintings mobilize a pervasive mood of alienated disjuncture to render a portrait of a nation whose dreams lie frozen under a sheet of uncertainty.

Although only a mere ten-by-ten-inches, “Shop Talk” exemplifies the complexities of the artist’s formal arsenal. A lone woman sits in meditation, surrounded by conversing Quakers set in a field of dim blues textured by faux-craquelure. Punctuating this mood of reverie is a broad stoke of rich orange, which comes to a stop at just the point where it veils the lone sitter\'s face. In the background, our eye moves from abstract flourishes evocative of Gerhard Richter’s squeegee paintings, to passages that recall the emulsive edges of Polaroid photography. Other similar passages of spatial, temporal, and symbolic ambiguity enhance the feeling of disconnection conveyed by Nakabayashi’s tableaux.

“Exit Ramp” superimposes a figure seen from behind onto a background of downtown Chicago’s sprawling, snow-drenched industrialism. Intimating that our rupture from ourselves and from each other is both psycho-social and technological, the artist intentionally renders the single baseball capped figure so as to conjure the slow frame rates of early surveillance videos as well as the common practice of cloning images via Photoshop. Nakabayashi’s portrayal of two versions of a single anonymous character – also apparent in the equally accomplished “Victory Dance” – implies a world of intensely fissured identities.

Eye contact is notably absent, eschewed for either barely legible profiles or for faces masked by the lenses of sunglasses and photo cameras (indeed, both are underscored to great effect in “High Ground”). The artist specializes in an even-lit, tungsten-hued ambience to produce anonymous looking individuals that often cast no shadows; thus, even the quality of light is expertly modulated to underscore artificiality and emotional vacancy.

In these respects, Nakabayashi suggests a homegrown variant of German painting coming out of Leipzig, pulling more than a few pages from the Tim Eitel rulebook. He lacks the rigorously academic polish of these German counterparts, but gains from the experimental and unselfconscious freedom by which someone talented and self taught combines varied strategies. Merging the documentary with the allegorical, mixing the alien with the quotidian, ambivalence and dislocation are cued with every brushstroke.

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