Only in Dreams

商業施設 Shopping Mall 2012 oil on canvas 194.0 × 194.0 cm ©Masahiko Kuwahara


Masahiko Kuwahara paints humorous motifs with soft and luminous colors. His paintings invite us to turn our attention to oddness lying under daily life. From his early career, Kuwahara has painted motifs such as unfamiliar creatures living by stagnate water in the urban area, deformed pigs whose bodies are halfway turned into ham, numerous indescribable characters and female models of fliers or magazines. All these figures appear comically yet seem to evoke the sense of isolation of the contemporary urban life. An art critic Noi Sawaragi observes on Kuwahara’s motifs of pigs and women:

Although Kuwahara’s “kogyaru” appear slender at first sight, they are strangely plump in certain places. You could see them as sweet, but the next moment they seem somehow crazy. Indeed, one cannot help noticing that these teenage girls are another incarnation of the pigs that Kuwahara has depicted in the past. (…) Kuwahara’s “kogyaru” are completely free of shyness of hesitation about sex, showing no sign of being bothered about its relationship with reproduction. Indeed, their sexuality has an incurable barrenness about it.
( from the catalogue for “Life and Pus”, 2001, pp.2-3)

Since 2010, however, there has been a new direction in Kuwahara’s artistic practice. He does not own computer, television, even fax. He reads through newspapers and fliers everyday, where he sometimes finds reference for motifs and titles, and takes walks and works on canvas. The calm, yet still slightly changing environment has allowed Kuwahara to paint honestly what he wants to paint. He observes changes in daily life (as well as society) tolerantly, and depicts the enigmatic fragments on canvas without being nostalgic. He does not question or judge the society, but is determined to simply paint. Noi Sawaragi also remarks:

Kuwahara’s works are formally paintings, yet the experience of seeing them cannot be easily reduced to “painting” and “two-dimension”. The overflow is created in the space where the figuration of a girl is left as an idol, right before being fixed on the surface of painting, although his treatment of paint seems to follow the lineage of Impressionism, Post-Impressionism and Abstract Expressionism. It is not physical, but is a space of capacity, where the viewers find dreamlike, happy memories (which are also painful ones, of course).
 (“Impression and idol overflowing from painting” Libertines, 2012, p.138)

Kuwahara’s ability to observe the environment around him while depicting comical and joyful world create richly nuanced expressions.


“Only in Dreams” presents recent paintings created since 2010. Kuwahara describes them with “the sense of abundant joy”. The largest painting “Shopping Mall” (2012) depicts a bright shopping mall. Kuwahara states that its background music gives an atmosphere like church, attracting people with the sense of abundant joy more than shopping. As he remarks, a girl and a humorous character holding hands in “Mirica” (2012) remind us Expulsion from Paradise. Kuwahara’s calm observation might have changed over years. This is the eighth solo exhibition with Tomio Koyama Gallery.

Artist Profile

Masahiko Kuwahara

Masahiko Kuwahara started exhibiting his work in the 1980s. He has consistently expressed a sense of absurdity with regard to scenery and humanity being changed by modernization. Inorganic buildings and sceneries created by Japan’s economic prosperity during the 1960s and 70s, dolls and toys that were consumed and abandoned to anonymity, and uncanny creatures living by polluted water, are the primary scenery in which Kuwahara himself grew up. He depicts their sadness in light and humorous ways, assimilated with pale color tones and blurred outlines, suggesting our contemporary feelings of fleeting emptiness, dullness, and loneliness, yet also enabling us to sense a mysterious kind of happiness.

Born in Tokyo in 1959. He has held nine solo exhibitions with Tomio Koyama Gallery: “Abandoned Child” (1997), “View” (1999), “Life and Pus” (2001), “Land Development” (2005), “In the End of Summer” (2007), “Window” (2008), “Sweet and Desserts” (2010), “Only in Dream” (2012), and “Bright Days” (2015). He has also hold two solo exhibitions at Richard Heller Gallery in Santa Monica, the United States, in 2001 and 2008.

His major group exhibitions include “TOKYO POP” (Hiratsuka Museum of Art, Kanagawa, 1996), “The Japanese Experience – Inevitable” (Ursula Blickle Stiftung Foundation, Kraichtal, Germany, 2002; traveled to Museum der Moderne, Salzburg, Austria in 2004), “POPjack: Warhol to Murakami” (Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver, 2002), “Japan Pop” (Helsinki City Art Museum, Helsinki, 2005), “Portrait Session” (NADiff, Tokyo / Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art, Hiroshima, 2007) and “Pathos and Small Narratives” (Gana Art Center, Seoul, Korea, 2011).