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Kenjilo Nanao
Kenjilo Nanao, Silver Waves IX, 2003
Kenjilo Nanao, Silver Waves IX, 2003, 64 x 99 inches, Oil on Canvas

Since the early seventies, Kenjilo Nanao has been a quiet force in the San Francisco Bay Area school of art (as distinct from the New York school).

Kenji first became known for his delicate, surreal, and sometimes erotic lithograph still lifes with finely graded grounds of, color reminiscent of Japanese Shunga prints. Although lithography had been his medium of choice since his student days with Nathan Oliviera, in the early eighties he began to focus more attention on painting. Interestingly, the larger scale and more direct approach attending the new medium seemed to inspire an equally dramatic shift in style. "Even though I had been dealing with a figurative subject (in the prints), my concern was with an abstract message," he said.

And that realization led to a re-examination of his understanding of the tenets of abstract expressionism. The result has been to bridge the apparent semantic ambiguity between, say, Rothko's idea of "equivalence" in abstract forms and the metaphorical "message" contained within them. That is, each is both equivalence and a metaphor for the other, a joining of plastic and metaphorical imagery which Nanao calls "a state of elegant confusion."

But if confused, it is not obvious. His paintings are elegant, his message eloquent. His facility with the medium and the aesthetic flowing from it embraces both the Japanese and American heritages of which it is born. Kenji's work represents a rare level of sophistication in all respects.

Gallery Guide, October 1999

In May of 2003, Kenjilo Nanao worked as Artist in Residence at the Tom Blaess Printshop in Berne, Switzerland. He produced 20 monoprints using chine colle and other techniques that were featured at Smith-Anderson Gallery.