The week before last, Super Sake Boy and I went to the opening of Reiwa, Shohei Otomo’s exhibition on at SHDW Gallery at 112 Flinders Lane, in Melbourne. The opening was accompanied by the launch of a beer that Shohei-san had collaborated on with our friend Tomoya‘a restaurant, Chotto Motto, in Collingwood and Temple Brewing in Brunswick.
The first time I saw Shohei-san’s amazing artwork was at Tomoya’s other restaurant in Melbourne, Wabi Sabi Salon. An incredible ink drawing of a girl covered with Yakuza style tattoos. This picture really captured my attention. Funky and edgy as hell, “Subculture Girl” is facing away, with long pigtails. She’s only wearing knickers and has a rising sun with a Japanese fighter plane, Mount Fuji and an alien on a motorcycle. There is a lot of other detail in the drawing including a syringe and an art knife. I was always drawn to this picture, but had never really studied it in detail. After meeting Shohei-san last week and listening to him explain another piece, I now see the religious allusions and the pop-culture imagery. This is definitely one of my favourite pieces, and it somehow encapsulates aspects of Japanese culture and interprets them so beautifully but with some underlying darkness, which is how I often find many aspects of Japanese culture to be.
Reiwa, the current exhibition, is quite small, but I highly recommend visiting. The pieces are all so detailed and when Shohei-san explained they were all drawn with a regular .5 black ballpoint pen, I think many people were shocked. The intricacy of the work is seriously surprising and the realism is extraordinary. One of the works is a sake tokkuri Molotov cocktail. It is drawn so beautifully, you can see a reflection in the porcelain. As sake lovers this piece really caught the attention of Super Sake Boy and myself.
The other piece that we loved we were able to purchase as a print which Shohei-san signed for us. “Heisei Mary” has similarities to “Subculture Girl”, although Mary is facing forwards. The intricacy of her tattoos is exceptional. Shohei-san’s explanation of the themes and symbolism in this work gave a completely different understanding of all of his work. The strong allusion to religious works and the use of recognisable characters and icons from both pop-culture and modern history make this piece feel familiar, yet explorable, and every time I look at it again, I find something new. Mary and the angel, from Evangelion, appear at the centre of the picture and there is a Heaven and Hell division on the upper and lower half of Mary’s body. Her right leg is tattooed with Eastern culture “badies” and the left leg has evil characters, scenes and devices from Western culture. The upper part of her body has a male/female division and the characters are all the characters that we love from both Eastern and Western pop-culture. There is religious hand signals, Sanskrit symbols, a yin yang and a lotus flower, as well as the dove of peace. Mary is clearly unmarried as she has a ring on every other finger, and she is pregnant. She looks like Sailor Moon, she is super cute and she is captivating. I can’t wait to get her in a frame and on our wall.
The Yuzu Yakuza Beer was both delicious and presented in a very funky can. The design, by Shohei himself, reminds me of 1980s manga. A yakuza with gold teeth and blue patterns, that kind of look like Hokusai waves in the background, it is eye-catching. The beer itself, brewed at Temple Brewing in Brunswick, had a definite, but not overpowering flavour of yuzu, a wonderfully delicious Japanese citrus fruit, mixed with yeasty witbier. The beer reminded me of my favourite beer, Coedo Shiro, from Japan and I will certainly be going back to Chotto Motto to drink some more of this deliciousness over summer.