Roberto Mastroianni – Symbols and colors of Shinya Sakurai

Symbols and colors of Shinya Sakurai
Roberto Mastroianni

Shinya Sakurai is a Japanese artist who has for years divided his time between Osaka and Turin, both cities where he studied, lives and works, proposing research on painting, composition, color and the symbolic and perceptive recurrences of our globalised culture.
His works seem to privilege a decorative tension, typically oriental, with immediate usability, which on an expressive and formal level takes on the tone of seriality and repetition of sign and pictorial elements with abstract and geometricising colors. His paintings are thus presented with a stylistic signature and a specific and extremely recognisable poetics, which articulates in textures of fluorescent and primary colors integrated and seamless sign elements, giving life to a dimension of material, pictorial and perceptive suspension. This shaping of a “floating world” and of specific emotional tones, typical of traditional Japanese paintings, but deprived of any kind of figurative tension, uses the languages of contemporaneity and prefers the material concreteness of color, sign and gestural expressiveness with which the works are realised, to give shape to iconic, non-narrative compositions.
For years, the artist has pursued a constant attempt to integrate tradition with the languages of the contemporary, and the cultural heritage of the European-American West with that of Far Asian culture. This cultural syncretism, which becomes pictorial and artistic, makes the legacy of the ‘Gutai Group’ its own, especially the research on materials, concreteness and color, which becomes in his works, expressiveness with a universal character, declined and integrated with a neo pop and minimalist tension, reminiscent of certain works by Mario Schifano and Alighiero Boetti.

In fact, Shinya has accustomed us in recent years to paintings with a strong impact that, through dense chromatic arrangements, stage a continuous dialectic between flow and structure, in which compositional tension and the rituality of gesture alternate with the presence of iconic elements, giving rise to metaphorical representations of the flowing of time, in which structural elements and anthropological constants embodied in minimal symbolic units seem to be suspended. In his works, in fact, the material of the painting (oil paints, acrylics and resins) gives shape to the suspended atmosphere, while the gestural expressiveness sediments fluid signs endowed with their own dynamism, characteristics that counterbalance the symbolic elements that seemingly float in the paintings, in order to bring to representation a constant spiritual and social presence of the human in the world. The canvases, prepared by dipping knotted fabric in color, according to the ancient technique of shibori, thus become the space of the constant reiteration of the sign and pure color and iconic elements (bubbles, rounds, squares, skulls, cells, star color units…), through which to convey messages deeper than the easy visual and perceptive accessibility of the surface. The dialectic surface depth/content representation thus assumes color as the primary medium, with a family resemblance reminiscent of the painting of compatriot Yayoi Kusama, aimed at conveying messages of hope and serenity that contrast with the heavy cultural heritage of an artist belonging to a nation marked by the tragedy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Shinya Sakurai’s gamble is that of an aesthetic proposal based on colour and iconic symbolism, explicitly decorative and pleasing that nevertheless knows how to be a source of reflection and an incentive to the search for happiness.
The basic units of his painting thus give shape to articulated configurations in which colors assume the role of perfect synthesis between matter and sign and which, as is well represented in the Terrific Colors cycle, integrate the matter and forms of painting, presenting themselves precisely for this reason as exceptional (from the English Terrific) and capable of exorcising the terrifying side hidden in reality. While the sign dimension, as is evident in the Symbol cycle, becomes emblematic and iconic of the more explicitly imaginary and anthropological dimension of the human, using the symbols of religious traditions and mass culture to create recurrences, based on the concept of difference and repetition, which are integrated with material textures in dense primary colors. A painting that attempts to be a syncretism between East and West, between contemporaneity and tradition. Shinya’s essential and minimal neo pop, which prefers the sign to figuration and uses colour to invade the canvas, superficially resembles Takashi Murakami’s pop fluo, but in contrast to it, it stands far from consumer civilisation and its exaltation, becoming a refined investigation into the conceptual and semiotic value of the icon and the symbolic iconography that profoundly unites human cultures. These slow and meditated works, apparently far from the gesturality of the Gutai and which, only apparently, can be compared to action painting, are representative of a mature artist, capable of presenting his own poetics and his own stylistic code, both driven by the urgency to produce works capable of being emotional portions of the human relationship with the world and his own future. The neo pop element thus becomes pregnant in the ironic and post-modern restitution of a minimal representation of the elementary structures of our semantics and emotional grammar, which the artist attempts to access in order to open windows that project dreams, aspirations and hopes through the materiality of color and form.


Roberto Mastroianni is a philosopher, curator and art critic.
President of the Widespread Museum of Resistance, Deportation, War, Rights and Freedom in Turin.
Direction Committee member of the Unesco Chair in Sustainable Development and Territory Management and Independent researcher at C.I.R.Ce – Interdepartmental Research Center on Communication at the University of Turin.
Scientific and artistic advisor on Graffiti-Writing, Street Art, Urban Art, Urban Design and Youth Creativity for the Department “Torino Creativa” of the City of Turin and curator for public art, urban creativity and Urban Art for the Foundation “Contrada Torino”-Onlus and the Art Curator of “To Shape-Urban Art District” of Turin, Italy.
After graduating in Theoretical Philosophy and obtaining a Ph. D. in Philosophy and Communication Studies, he focused his research mainly on Philosophical Aesthetics, General Theory of Politics, Anthropology, Semiotics, Urban Studies, Communication and Cultural Studies, Urban Innovation and Cultural Heritage, Sustainable Development and Political Ecology, Contemporary and Irregular and Outsider Art and Philosophical Theory.
He is the author, co-author and curator of several books, articles and essays on political theory, philosophy and art criticism.  He has also curated numerous exhibitions and shows in public and private spaces and national and international museums as well as public art and street art projects.
He currently teaches Cultural Anthropology and Anthropology of Art  at the Albertina Academy of Fine Arts in Turin.