Arisa Kumagai is a Japanese artist who lives and works in Kyoto. Using primarily oil paints, and still in her late 20s, she’s developed a style of masterful realism that deftly balances black, negative space to create solemn scenes of life & death, rich & poor.
The work “Single Bed” (2018) encompasses a canvas the size of a single mattress. Lush, white flowers, appearing to hang upside down, fill the top 1/3 of the canvas and tell the story of the artist’s father, who died a lonely death, or in Japanese, kodokushi. His body wasn’t discovered for several months and when it was, it took an additional 2 months to even verify his identity.
Her mother sent flowers – beautiful flowers. In fact, the artist dwells on how artful Japanese funeral flowers have become: an irony which she translates into her own artwork. “They say that sleeping is like a small death,” says the artist. “I sleep, also today, on my own single bed.”
In another series, Kumagai’s own Grandfather becomes the subject. His eyes are never seen, almost as if to conceal his identity, but he is adorned in a golden robe. It’s likely a reference to the family business of selling glitzy Italian clothes to the Japanese mafia. The artist explains that she grew up in decadent luxury, but also watched it quickly disappear as Japan’s economy sputtered. Life and riches are so easily replaced by death and poor.
Kumagai’s paintings are currently on display at Gallery Koyanagi in Tokyo through June 22, 2019.