Selected works by Kaz Oshiro

Kaz Oshiro
Wall Cabinet #10


Acrylic on stretched canvas

76.2 x 76.2 x 30.5 cm
Kaz Oshiro is a master of deception. His works posit ordinary objects with a humble simplicity. Washing machines, kitchen cabinets, stereo speakers, and trashcans are presented with mundane matter-of-fact-ness ― bland commercial components, bearing the marks of their habitual use. Oshiro’s forms, however, are not usual household appliances: they are actually three dimensional hyperrealist paintings. Each of Oshiro’s works is assembled from stretched canvas, expertly faux finished and adorned with real fixtures such as handles and decals. Through openings in the back of each work, Oshiro reveals the secret of their making.
In combining sculpture and painting, Oshiro considers his work as dissociated from both disciplines. Instead he describes his practice as “postmodern photography”, creating provocative instances of perception which simultaneously confuse and expose artifice and reality. Equally influenced by Minimalism and Pop art, Oshiro uses these references to reinterpret the traditional genre of still-life. Like 17th century paintings of flowers and fruit, Oshiro’s contemporary emblems of status symbol and commodity invoke a transitory mysticism in their contrived illusion. In replicating the quotidian, Oshiro conjures a magic in the in the experience of everyday banality.


kaz oshiro's magic deceit

By Michael Duncan

“The connoisseurs of the future may be more sensitive than we are to the imaginative dimensions and overtones of the literal.” – Clement Greenberg, “Abstract and Representational,” Art Digest, November 1, 1954

Kaz Oshiro’s surprising re-creations of commonplace objects are trompe l’oeil mind-teasers that slyly extend and invert the esthetic end-game initiated by the ideas of Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol. Flawless illusions, they appear to be what they depict--amplifiers, kitchen cabinets, trash cans, washers and dryers--complete with evidence of wear: scuff marks, stains, scrapes, stickers. As bland objects from the bottom of the consumer chain, they seem unlikely inhabitants of a museum or gallery.

All are non-collectables; they are slightly worn containers for things, receptacles of rock music, garbage, dirty laundry, plates, and mugs. Without aura or singularity, they seem too ordinary to consider as pathetic or abject; they have none of the appeal of Mike Kelley’s stuffed animals or Jim Shaw’s thrift store paintings. As presumably found objects, they don’t have the romantic patinas of rust or age.

A glance at a wall label or checklist, however, changes everything – along with a look at their backsides. Oshiro’s works are composed of acrylic paint on canvas, with accessory details molded in bondo, the substance used to repair car bodies. Beautifully crafted props, they are usually installed so that viewers can discover the backstage artifice of canvas and stretcher bars.

Oshiro’s painstaking replications endow seemingly empty emblems of consumer culture with meaning. Growing up in Okinawa, Oshiro was bred on a hearty mix of American and Japanese pop cultures. His teenage enthusiasm for punk and new wave music and involvement as a young adult with pop collectibles eventually led to disillusion with the commodity-controlled world of fashions and trends. While in art school at California State University, Los Angeles, Oshiro became intrigued by the Photorealist paintings of Daniel Douke, particularly his masterfully convincing painted replications of paper bags and various forms of metal. Oshiro became interested in making free-standing objects using Douke’s illusionist techniques.

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Speaking Through Silence

An interview with Kaz Oshiro
By Nadja Sayej

“In order to say what you really want to say, you have to start learning how to not say what you want to say. Then you will learn how to speak clearly. But once you learn how to not say what you want to say, do you really need to speak?” - Kaz Oshiro
Kaz Oshiro is a LA-based artist who was born in Japan. For the past 20 years, his sculpture and installation work has traveled through a process of taking regular objects out of context in subtle, subtle ways. They are almost a lie. A lie we want to believe. Read on.
How did you get into the work you do?
I was a bad student. I was isolated. Maybe it was because I was learning the language that I was a shy and passive. I always had troubles because I was self conscious about my work. I felt like it was like showing my emotions and I didn’t really like that feeling. From there, I wanted to find a different way to express my ideas. “If I make functional objects out of canvas,” I thought, “I don’t have to deal with that kind of guilty feeling of making art, the emotions.” So I just made ordinary objects. It looks like an object just sitting there. I liked that idea. I wasn’t interested in telling people about what I do. I never really wanted to speak loudly in art making.
Why ordinary objects?
If there is no functional object, there is no metaphor. If you put a regular object in a museum space it’s a contradiction, because everything in a museum space looks like art. But if an ordinary object is in a regular environment, it doesn’t have as much of an aura than artwork. It doesn’t look like art.
Have you struggled with that or has it been a driving force for you?
Sometimes art galleries are testing grounds for art. For example, a collector bought one of my trash bin pieces, one that looks like a trash bin from McDonald’s. He took it to his house and the maid tried to clean the trash bin out with Windex, and as a result, she wiped off all the paint on the bin. I took that as a compliment because it doesn’t have the same aura as other artwork. If my trash bin looked like art, the maid wouldn’t have touched it. I’m not just trying to make a beautiful piece of art, but something beyond. It was a compliment because people who usually have knowledge of art will know not to touch it. Up until you discover it.
How does discovering art as object play a role in your work?
I’m an anti-metaphor kind of person. It’s like telling other people: this is art. My first piece was the pink Marshall amplifiers. It was neutral to me. Still, I’m trying to speak something through the color. The color creates a kind of metaphor. It’s really effective, art as a regular object. I’m not to trying to make a sculpture about a painting. The structures of the pieces are important because you don’t notice it is a painting until you go around to the back. It is difficult for people to tell.
Your cabinets are not unlike minimal paintings.
If you think about the cabinet piece, it looks really natural to be on a wall. To me the cabinet is something that is close to paintings. But I’m an anti-wall kind of person.
I’ve been making sculptural painting, but I don’t have much sympathy for the painter or the sculptor. But what I’m doing is postmodern photography, it’s about the perception. I’m dealing with the perception.
Is your work a cross hybridization of pop and minimal?
I was really interested in modular form. That’s another reason why I started what I’m doing. A painting story starts and ends on the same surface. Like stacked amplifiers in night clubs, I was interested in that kind of modular, Bauhaus kind of background. Pop, but also really minimal.
I wanted to be an architect before, but I wasn’t really good at it. I abandoned what I was doing. Because I came from Japan, the Bauhaus and Japanese architecture is related in a way, like the simple geometric forms in boxes.
Where did the washer and dryer series come from?
The washer and dryer are simple forms, they’re white boxes is sitting inside of the white cube of the gallery. I’m always thinking about the design, I love minimal architecture. It would sound like I’m an abstract painter, but I’m not.
Just as your work can be classified into post pop art and neo geo, what do you think about being classified as a foreigner?
I’m kind of in a weird place. I’ve been in the US longer than Japan, and when I was in Japan, it was more like the US. Since I don’t have the right to vote, I never wanted to express a political standpoint. I was interested in the issues but I never really liked the idea to express my political opinion through art. I just want to make pop California art.
Do you think pop art is after all this time, still important today in contemporary culture?
When I grew up in Okinawa, there was no contemporary art that existed in my environment. I discovered Andy Warhol through a fashion magazine. I knew about Marilyn, Elvis and Campbell soup, but knew nothing about art history. Yet I was so fascinated by Pop art and popular images. Pop art still opens the door for people who don't have any knowledge of art history.
Do your viewers bring their own memory to the work to understand it?
The objects are pretty much everywhere. I’m just trying to make objects that you remember. There are so many things I can talk about when explaining my work, but it always goes back to something really simple, which is “still life.” I don't think I'm doing something new but something very old and basic, which is to make (paint) still life... painting objects in and around my environment. And my political perspective is that I don't want to express my political opinions directly through my art work, yet, I always think about having political edge about what I'm doing.
For example, “In order to say what you really want to say, you have to start learning how to not say what you want to say. Then you will learn how to speak clearly. But once you learn how to not say what you want to say, do you really need to speak?” I always think about this question hoping to have self-criticism.
How has that act of silencing and self-criticism changed your voice as an artist? What does it have to do with self-discipline for you?
I don’t think I need to speak... as long as I know what I am doing. It’s much easier to explain everything that I believe, but maybe some things are better left unsaid, especially when it comes to visual art. I've been trying to make art that doesn’t require many explanations. It is good to learn how the power of silence works because silence also contains a lot of chaotic aspects inside of it, and it becomes ambient. Often times, a silent protest seems to be much more serious than a loud protest. All I can do is shut up and make art, if my art won’t speak... that means I’m not good. It’s a really simple rule.

Nadja Sayej is a journalist who works in New York and Toronto.