In Tokyo today: Sensual realism in contemporary stillebens

In Claudia Ahlering’s exhibition Still Alive opening this evening in Tokyo, the tradition of stilleben is being both celebrated and challenged by beautifully executed oil paintings on canvas. In the tombs of ancient Egypt walls were decorated with paintings of food objects as it was believed that the depicted items would become available to the deceased in the afterlife. The fascination with painting innate objects, most commonly placed on a table, has stayed with painters and we have seen many bold and successful takes over the years, although I do not remembering seeing a ring finger amongst carrots before; a ring finger with a glistening wedding ring still attached to it. In this bright and painterly composition with soft and warm colours, the dry and moldy carrots are placed in a pile on the floor next to a piece of furniture and a pair of white ladies shoes. Although the carrots have seen better days, the small green leaves are eagerly reaching up towards the light, and in this way life and death are interfacing each other throughout the exhibition.

Still Alive is Hamburg artist Ahlering’s second exhibition at Hiromart Gallery and although the opening is colliding with a possible encounter with the typhoon Jelawat threatening to approach Japan, gallery owner Hiromi Nishiyama is sticking to the schedule. Hiromi is known to defy natural catastrophes in the name of art since April 2011, when Ahlering’s Japan debut opened six weeks after Japan was struck by the massive earthquake, the tsunami and the nuclear disaster. Hiromi recalls the event: “During that difficult time art was more important than ever before. Sometimes we need art to escape reality and at that time the exhibition made us all feel much better as we were able to have a good time and enjoy Claudia’s creations.”

Sensual portraits of young people embodying immortality, whose radiant skin seems to reflect the beauty and the softness of the flowers resting next to their bodies, continue to comment on the fragility and possibility of time. When asked whether her Japanese visitors will appreciate the dark humor and the feminist slant, Hiromi is certain that Still Alive will be met with awe and curiosity in the gallery which is now filled with an unusually strong smell of oil paint. The Japanese art lovers have a lot to discover at Hiromart Gallery, which is one of very few Tokyo galleries dealing in International art. It is both amusing and heart-warming for the gallery owner to be a pioneer in this field. “There must be a different kind of oil paint that they use in Europe? I am looking forward to seeing how people will react to it.”

“Tom” by Claudia Ahlering, now exhibited at Hiromart Gallery

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