- Masami Teraoka
Friday, April 6, 2001
Slide Lecture by the Artist
Reception for the Artists
About the Exhibition
Masami Teraoka was born in Onomichi, Japan in 1936. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in aesthetics at Kwansei Gakuin University in Kobe, Japan. In 1961 he moved to the United States, and graduated from Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles with Bachelor of Arts and Master of Fine Arts degrees in 1968. TeraokaOs artwork has been included in solo and group exhibitions throughout Europe, Japan, Taiwan, Mexico, Australia and the United States. In addition, his work is held in the collections of several major museums in the United States and abroad. Masami Teraoka is represented by Pamela Auchincloss, Arts Management in New York and by Catharine Clark Gallery in San Francisco. He currently lives and works in Waimanalo, Hawaii.
Masami Teraoka revises artistic styles from the past, twisting, squeezing and bending them so that they speak to the present moment with startling clarity. He is probably best known for his transformations of the traditional Japanese ukiyo-e woodcut into humorous though pointed statements about the threat of pollution, the western world's materialism and the need for safe sex practices in the age of AIDS. In such works, figures which might have stepped out of a nineteenth-century woodblock print can be seen chomping down on McDonald's hamburgers, wielding video cameras and golf bags, or carefully unwrapping packages of condoms. More recently Teraoka has adopted a western artistic model in panoramic paintings which comment on the social implications of the electronic revolution and on America's tendency to transform political sex scandals into voyeuristic media spectacles. Teraoka dresses these commentaries in a visual language which invokes late medieval religious art and the specter of the Spanish Inquisition. He paints medieval clerics in ecclesiastical robes mingling with naked or nearly naked young women, and wizened putti who float in turbulent skies above modern media victims beset by computer cables and computer mice which coil threateningly like poisonous snakes. The mix of modern and medieval references allows Teraoka to comment on the hypocritical moralism of a sex-obsessed nation which turns scandal into entertainment while sanctimoniously condemning those whom it has converted into media stars. Some of these works, like Night Vision Inquisition and Virtual Inquisition/ Tower of Babel, deal specifically with the Clinton impeachment trial, complete with references to the infamous blue dress and a grand inquisitor who bears a remarkable resemblance to Kenneth Starr. Others employ the biblical figure of Eve to suggest the way that female sexuality is demonized by a society which simultaneously exploits it. In yet other paintings, authority figures wield the tools of the information ageNkeyboards, electronic mice and television microphonesNlike instruments of medieval torture for those caught up in the media circus. In the process these works comment on the alienation visited on society by a high-tech culture which ignores human values. These recent works are less overtly comic than Teraoka's earlier ukiyo-e based paintings (though they do exhibit a certain black humor). In part this stems from the changed nature of Teraoka's targets. The earlier works also dealt with social woes, but the paintings seem born of the sense that problems like pollution and AIDS can be eradicated once society reaches a consensus to do so. By contrast, the ills which preoccupy Teraoka now are of a more treacherous sort. Stemming from an inner corruption, they are the residue of a society which is willing to replace its real values with a self- serving morality which abets the powerful at the expense of the powerless. Teraoka's anger at the current state of moral corruption is no doubt enhanced by his own status as a Japanese long transplanted to the United States. Like many immigrants, he has a fierce devotion to freedom and democracy, values which native-born Americans may be more likely to take for granted. His works operate as an urgent reminder that if we do not tend more carefully to these important ideals, we may wake someday to find them vanished from our world. Eleanor Heartney is a New York-based art critic. She is Contributing Editor to Art in America, Artpress and the New Art Examiner, and writes and lectures widely about contemporary art and its relation to politics and religion. Eleanor Heartney
Masami Teraoka: Tower of Babel is organized by Tina Yapelli, Director of the University Art Gallery. The exhibition is sponsored by the San Diego State University Art Council, a community support group of the School of Art, Design and Art History. Additional funding is provided by the School of Art, Design and Art History; the College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts; and the fund for Instructionally Related Activities.