Kenichi Yokono’s Red-and-White Wood Carvings Add a Sinister Flair to Kawaii Scenes

Eyeballs, ice cream cones, airplanes, flowers, hammers, and sickles—those are just a few motifs at play in the work of Kanazawa-based artist Kenichi Yokono. At Micheko Galerie in Munich, a selection of his red-and-white wood carvings explore overlapping themes of strange anatomy, mortality, and environmental degradation.

Though the works on display in “Waiting for the New World” feature imagery from traditional Japanese culture, they are complicated by a confluence of other sources. For instance, in Window #2 (2013), the romantic landscape scene draws heavily from ukiyo-e tradition. However, Yokono’s decision to position the woodblock itself as the artwork (rather than a print) is quite contemporary.

In another piece, Still Life (2013), a structured vase bursts with flowers as it is surrounded by a snake, insects, and skulls. These memento mori hint at a Western European influence—morbidity was frequently explored in medieval paintings—even as a traditional floral motif grounds the scene.

Manga, yōkai horror films, and anime culture also inform Yokono’s work. The influences are most clearly seen in his subjects’ exaggerated proportions, the buildup of elaborate environments, and the omnipresence of bulging, dilated eyeballs.

However, by adding sinister details to otherwise kawaii scenes, Yokono distinguishes his practice from Japanese packaging and pop culture. Smoke trails and machine-related explosions are interspersed throughout the body of work, as if reminding viewers of the grave consequences of industrialization and globalization. Additionally, by introducing skateboards into his practice, Yokono extends his net of influence to include Western skate culture.

His attention to detail is remarkable. Meticulous patterns accentuate the woodgrain of skateboards, and rounded edges are rendered with masterful skill. In some cases, a pattern imitating woodgrain is carved into a wood panel—evidence of Yokono’s command of the medium and his toying with material.

In the show’s titular work, Waiting for the New World (2013), an enlarged heart hangs from a tree as a decapitated skeleton, decked out in a fur coat, sits nearby. Tufts of grass, stone steps, and undulating earth combine to form a captivating landscape dotted with modern details like an electric fan and a construction cone. Within this circular woodblock, the core elements of Yokono’s practice are on full display: a fusion of eclectic influences, exaggerated anatomical parts, and a startlingly straightforward confrontation with death and its accessories.


—Anna Furman


Kenichi Yokono: Waiting for the New World” is on view at Micheko Galerie, Munich, Apr. 8–Jun. 4, 2016.

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