Artist Misaki Kawai‘s current exhibition of new work at the Hole Gallery in New York City could at a brief glance easily be called “kawaii,” the Japanese word that means “cute” and connotes an entire culture (and myriad sub-cultures) that express the cute aesthetic. Its roots are from Japan, and it is often referred to as the “Cult of Kawaii.” But for this artist, who hails from Osaka and is partly based in NYC, there is so much more going on beneath the surface. There’s a knowing wink and ironic lean into the symbols of contemporary social media culture.
To be clear, Kawai’s art is, well, kawaii. Her current show is equal parts abstract paintings and sculptural objects. The entire shows embraces vivid, energetic colors. Her paintings have words written in Japanese in a school kid-like scrawl. Dotted throughout the gallery are larger than life fuzzy 3D emojis set upon plinths and daises. These are like a child’s plushies toys, soft and furry and richly color-saturated in deep blues, greens and fuchsias. They’re almost too full of candy-coated happiness, and, in this way, a bit unsettling, but otherwise utterly compelling. You immediately want to take one home with you and snuggle up with it while camped out on the sofa binge-watching the hot Netflix series du jour.
Kawai’s paintings, too, are compelling in spite of — and perhaps because of — their apparent childishness and simplicity. The artist’s use of color is a blast. Her combination of both brush-painting and spray-painting techniques creates an underlying textural tension.
In the end, the paintings, we can take them or leave them. It’s Kawai’s emoji’s that steal the show. We’re fans. Kawai’s show is titled “Moko Moko, Doki Doki” and is on view through February 14th at the Hole gallery in NYC.