According to the artist Takashi Murakami, the most respectable artist in Japan is the comedian. That would place Noritake Kinashi (or Nori-san, as he’s affectionately referred to on TV and by the general public), at the top of the artistic pyramid. As one part of the comedic duo Tunnels, Nori-san has had a successful television career and has been one of Japan’s most beloved comedic voices over the past 30 years.
At a crowded gallery last Saturday night in Tribeca, Nori-san was dressed in a denim jacket, vest and hat with a plaid tie. He was grinning ear-to-ear, just like he does on television, looking like he was having the time of his life. Except he wasn’t making jokes. He was here to debut his solo exhibition of roughly 30 paintings.
It’s no secret that, off-screen, Nori-san had been moonlighting as a painter. In fact, his art career was sparked by a comedy sketch he did in 1994 in which he played the part of a painter who was painting the Seine in France. And supported by his wife, actress Narumi Yasuda, who attended art school, he’s continued painting for the past 20 years. Sometimes abstract, often colorful, Nori-san has said that he likes creating work that makes people happy. Positive, uplifting imagery and text, as well as domesticity are recurring themes in the artist’s work.
In 2014 Nori-san embarked on an ambitious, solo exhibition that would travel through Japan. It began in mid-2014 in Tokyo and has now been on display at 7 different museums across Japan. Now, that show has arrived in NYC at hpgrp gallery’s newly relocated space in Tribeca. His paintings are on display through November 11, 2015.
Yes, the majority of people were there to see Nori-san the celebrity. But that didn’t seem to matter. Watching Nori-san interact with his fans, and talk about his artwork made one thing clear. For him, art was just another tool he used to achieve what he’s been doing with comedy: making people happy.