THERE'S ALWAYS A CONFLICT when an artist starts out from a collective of peers that, well, "collectively" work, and then moves on to build a solo career. It's true in music, theatre groups, and it's also true in fine art. The newly independent artist struggles to find her or his own voice, while the remaining members of a group can't help but feel left behind, even if they achieve their own success regardless, especially when the former partner walks alright on her or his own feet.
Since her departure from Faile, Aiko Nakagawa, who began her artist career as a founding member of the collective, has struggled in more ways than just dealing with constant nagging from her former cohorts and their new fans, who seem to have no idea that she was actually one of the two main founders of their favorite artist group.
The triviality of such behind-the-scenes problems aside, the main challenge for Aiko as a solo artist has been to articulate and reclaim her own individuality. Indeed, her iconic imagery and femininity were so heavily interwoven in, and at the same time influenced by, Faile's works that when she began exhibiting her solo work around the world, it was not easy for an untrained eye to see what made her unique away from the collective.
However, two solo exhibitions and multiple group shows into her solo career, Aiko's voice is finally heard loud enough. "Love Monster", which opened last weekend at Joshua Liner Gallery in Chelsea, is an impressive 40-piece collection of her latest work that indicates her widest leap forward into expressing her independent identity.
Aiko's work usually includes at least one female figure either in a sexually suggestive position, or adorned with a military-inspired outfit and/or a spray can, which hint at agression or assimilation into traditionally male-dominated cultures. She also frequently sprinkles cartoon-like images of panda, chicken an other characters. Often inspired by store signs on the street such as the smiling softserve on Mister Softee tracks, they appear next to bombshell ladies reminiscent of pulp fiction cover art, as if to tease the seriousness of viewers' sexual arousal or frustration.
This time, in the works on view at "Love Monster", Aiko's women aren't just posing to entice: they are ready to take charge. One canvas shows a woman taking off her night gown. Another is of young girls playing in a circle, à la "The Dance" by Henri Matisse, and tie up a machine gun with ropes. The cartoonish characters also take a more dominant stance, taking up a larger space on canvas or appearing in multiple within an image.
There are a couple of canvases in which a bullet flies towards the derriere of the Wonder Woman-like female. But here, too, the woman is confident and smiles victoriously. Viewers who have been following Aiko's career would immediately notice that this is the first time she introduced any direct male symbol, sexual or otherwise, in her work.
It is curious how Aiko will incorporate more or less of male presence in her future work. Either way her fans would hope that her women, just like their mothering artist, continue to grow stronger, independent and expressive. "Love Monster" is only the beginning of Aiko's true departure.