The blurry sweet spot: In conversation with Kenichi Hoshine

As you look at the colorful and at first glance apparently abstract paintings of New York based artist Kenichi Hoshine, the curtain suddenly rises and the shapes and colors morph into faintly recognisable forms – drapery here, a cluster of figures there, a tripod, a pool of light from an overhead spot, ropes and rigging – all the mechanisms and makings of a theatre stage. Kenichi has long been fascinated by the interplay between the make-believe scene that the audience sees and the world of tricks and illusions that goes on behind the curtain to make this façade visible. “Nothing is what it seems,” Kenichi explains, “and I love this sense of duplicity and deception.” This gives us the framework to approach his work and begin to understand how the layers of colors and forms enact this play between surface and depth.

Born in Tokyo, Kenichi lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. He teaches at Pratt Institute and is an avid fly-fisherman. At the beginning of the year he presented a new series of paintings in a solo show at pt.2 Gallery in Oakland, California. Titled Amawalk, Kenichi described the body of work as a sorting and sifting of references from daily life. “The paintings are like an editing room floor; a surface built upon failures and incidental mark making where a friable foundation forms.” In the interview below, we chat about the colors, stagecraft, blurry sweet spots, fly fishing and more.

AMM: Hi Kenichi! To start us off, can you please take us back to your earliest art-related memory. How does this prefigure what would later unfold?

KH: Hi Layla! The earliest memory is my mother handing me paper and pencils to keep me occupied, and more importantly, quiet, while my older sisters received piano lessons. I actually regret not receiving piano lessons myself, but I may not be doing what I’m doing now had things not transpired the way they did. Being in my own little bubble, my own headspace, and concentrating on a singular surface is something that I do even to this day.

AMM: At first glance your paintings appear abstract but as you look at them, figures and forms begin to emerge, slowly revealing whole scenes. What appeals to you about working in this blurred space between figuration and abstraction?

KH: I think that “blurred space” is the median of all of my artistic influences and fixations. I don’t like the obvious. But at the same time, the complete unknown without any reference points quickly makes me lose interest. On my bookshelf are artists’ monographs ranging from John Singer Sargent to Lawrence Carroll. Like most artists working today, I’m interested in a wide spectrum of artwork and disciplines. The internet has a vast, limitless trove of images that we can constantly access. I think the blurred space is an elusive sweet spot for a painter who is trying to make sense of all these flavors and proclivities.

AMM: The colors in your works are really vivid and rich. Please tell us a little about your approach to color in your art?

KH: My wife’s favorite colors have been a source for my recent paintings. She decorates our apartment, and the various fabrics and objects that surround us have permeated my subconscious (haha). I tend to favor a more drab and monochromatic palette, so high chroma and vividness are out of my comfort zone. A lot of trial and error goes on with my paintings when I’m figuring out the balance of colors and hues. Use of colors is definitely not my strong suit.

The Melody Maker, acrylic on wood, 24” x 30”

AMM: Besides painting, do you work in any other mediums? Why do you work in the mediums you do?

KH: I’ve been working with acrylic paints on wooden panels for several years now. Up until then I was working primarily with oils. But I found that acrylics let me make spontaneous edits and allow me to layer images without having to wait a day or more. It speeds up my decision making (in a good way) and allows me to paint without the idle waiting.

AMM: The subject matter (if we can call it that) of your work has strong theatrical themes. Where does your interest in the stage world come from and what does it offer you conceptually?

KH: For me, the stage and sets, for both theater and cinema, represent artifice. Nothing is what it seems and I love this sense of duplicity and deception. The viewer buys into everything and relents to the world presented in front of them. I think I’m just trying to reimagine this on a two-dimensional surface.

AMM: What is your process of working?

KH: These days it’s very simple and straightforward. I prep and gesso a wooden panel, sand it, and get to painting. I used to gather a lot of reference materials and fuss with different mediums. I felt that I was becoming a slave to the reference and this was restricting my overall practice. Looking is very important, but once you look at something too much and step over a precipice, your work can easily go south.

I tend to layer colors and imagery on top of each other with much second-guessing in between. There is a lot of scraping and sanding involved as well. It’s always the case of “two steps forward, one step back”.

Bletchley Park, acrylic on wood, 20″ x 24″

AMM: How has your art changed over the years? What has inspired this?

KH: I try to constantly evolve my paintings. I detest stagnation and comfort when it comes to my work. When I feel a sense of uneasiness while working, that is when I know I’m on the right “path”, so to speak.

AMM: If you were a color, which would you be and why?

KH: Witching Hour. It’s actually a Benjamin Moore paint color that is similar to charcoal. I used it on the walls for one of my gallery shows. I like the color and I love the name.

AMM: I read that you’re really into fly-fishing. Does this pursuit influence your art at all, or is this something completely separate?

KH: It is something completely separate from my painting practice. Though I frequently find myself using fishing analogies when describing the art world…

AMM: What ideas are you exploring in your current work?

KH: I am playing around with the space/environment in my paintings. I want to depict an interior that feels like an exterior, and vice versa. I don’t want the viewer to have a concrete sense of what they’re looking at. One of my end goals is the extraction of an unsettling feeling.

AMM: Do you have any exciting projects coming up? What’s next for you?

KH: I may be working with a couple of new galleries in the near future. We’re trying to work out the details and finalize some plans. I will be announcing any new developments on my website (www.kenichihoshine.com) and on my Instagram (@kenichi_hoshine). Thank you Layla!

Find out more about the artist: www.kenichihoshine.com

Interview by Layla Leiman for ArtMaze Magazine.

F. Dietl, acrylic on wood, 20” x 24”