What's on Los Angeles | Index

by Jody Zellen

May 5, 2022

Daisuke Fukunaga
Beautiful Work
April 7 - May 14, 2022

Daisuke Fukunaga

For his debut solo exhibition in Los Angeles, his first outside Japan, Tokyo based Daisuke Fukunaga presents a series of new paintings titled Beautiful Work. These pieces are based on the notion of work, looking abstractly at the laborer working and during moments of respite from workday activities. Fukunaga paints softly using a light and airy palette. His canvases are somewhat washy and, at the same time, detailed and descriptive. His cast of characters nap, sleep on the subway, or doze, even while their headlamps are illuminated.

Paintings like Dance (carriers) and Beautiful work (both 2022) pay homage to Matisse's 1910 Dance and Manet's Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1881-82). Fukunaga uses the compositions from these iconic paintings as a point of departure, transforming them into scenes that resonate in today's society. Beautiful work depicts a young, female chambermaid getting ready to clean a bathroom. She wears a blue apron over a plush, bright green sweater that contrasts with her magenta pants and stares directly at the viewer, recalling the bartender in Manet's painting. She stretches on a yellow latex glove in preparation for the task at hand. Behind her are various mops and the tiled walls and floors of the space. Dance (carriers) is the largest work in the exhibition. Its composition parallels Matisse's work, yet rather than portray nude dancers, Fukunaga places workers interspersed with tall colorful luggage carts in a circular configuration appearing to "dance" on a blue marble floor as they go about their routine tasks.

Crawler in the City (2020) is also a large painting in which Fukunaga depicts himself as a Google mapper roaming the outskirts of a city with two cellphones and a contraption on his back. Intent on his job, the long-haired, red baseball cap wearing figure stares at the screen and tunes out his surroundings— which include plants on top of a wall and further in the background, the houses and buildings that make up the metropolis. Fukunaga's scenarios feel familiar and his characters, though abstractly rendered, appear serene and worry free. The man in Sleeping Man 4 (2022) lets his head fall to the right against his shoulder as he enjoys a moment of rest on the subway. His orange scarf stands out against his dark gray shirt and pants as he sits with crossed arms and legs leaning against the corner of the bench. Attuned to details, Fukunaga includes what the train is passing outstde through a small window in the upper right corner— trees, houses and a building.

In smaller paintings like Sleeping man 3, Sleeping man 2 and nap, (all 2022) Fukunaga captures workers at rest in interior, as well as exterior spaces. His washy, monochromatic palette creates a dreamlike environment for the characters to unwind and nod off. A shoe-less man leans back on a soft chair in a grayish tan room in Sleeping man 3. There is a small purple flower in a vase on the table to his left and a metal drum filled with larger plants in a nearby corner. Though oblivious to these surroundings, Fukunaga paints a safe space for the worker to stretch his legs and close his eyes. In Sleeping man 2, Fukunaga surrounds the resting figure in a sea of blue hues pierced by a lighter blue beam that emanates from the figure's headlamp.

Rendered with short, expressionist brush-strokes, Fukunaga's paintings capture a sense of calm in the frenetic world. His figures seem to be at peace and this sentiment pervades throughout the works, even though they were painted in a time of crisis. No matter what their dreams are made of, Fukunaga's characters feel free to indulge in moments of slumber, tuning out the surrounding world and unencumbered by the realities of their work-life.