beautiful badmouths: chiaki harada at gallery shikaku


pile o' Chiaki Harada goodz

Last year’s Self Matsuri coincided with a Harada Chiaki (原田ちあき) exhibit at Gallery Shikaku, a fantastic gallery in Nakatsu with a large selection of small-press underground publications and other art objects for sale. Here’s a link to the exhibition page, which features some of her work and a couple of videos as well.

Harada’s painting combines pop elements from schoolgirl manga with a deeply surrealist streak that feels somewhat like Alejandro Jodorowsky‘s work might have been like if he had chosen painting over film (but with more insects); there’s also a dark eroticism that feels closely allied with the grotesque horror manga of  Suehiro Maruo.

While her paintings are fantastic, it’s the pop manga aesthetic of her viciously funny sendups of Japan’s overly fetishized schoolgirl culture that really stands out for me. In some ways, Harada’s work reminds me of the deeply parodic painting of Keiko Sootome (五月ケイ子): one of Sootome’s favorite subjects is a balding salaryman and the deeply emotional trials and tribulations of salaryman life. Mouhatsu Senryuu (毛髪川柳) — which might be translated as Comic Haiku about Hair — is a book that features paintings of a mostly hairless salaryman in various states of ecstasy and pain, with short haiku-like commentaries written out below. For example, one painting features a sad-looking bald salaryman dreaming of a field being sown, with a smiling face with a head full of hair and joyful, glittering eyes emerging from the field. The accompanying text reads “Sowing the seeds of hair implants in spring will bring a rich harvest in autumn.” (春まいた/植毛のたね/秋たわわ)

Harada’s pop manga harvests much the same territory, but using schoolgirl culture as the ground for her acerbic comic commentary. Her short book, Hitori-zumou (ひとりずもう), which I think would be translated as Wrestling Alone, features page after page of manically happy, hysterically sobbing, mooning in love, viciously spiteful, and melancholically lost schoolgirls, often done up in brightly-colored comic book Zip-A-Tone, à la Roy Lichtenstein. Except that in addition to this you need to add a host of bizarre elephant companions, some scissors and ropes, a couple of extra limbs, lots of stuffed animals, and an octopus. One image, for example, features a young woman bending over backwards in shock while a stuffed pink elephant emerges from a slit in her chest. Expressionless, she mouths the words, “Only because of my malicious gossip, you’ve easily been able to deepen your friendships. Take it freely.” (私の陰口で君たちの安い友情が深まるのならどうぞご自由で.) In another scene, a giant schoolgirl face looms in the sky above a snow-capped mountain. In the foreground a woman wearing farming clothes walks along a path, but her face has been replaced by the Twitter icon. The enormous schoolgirl says, “My job is to check the SNS feeds of those I hate on a daily basis.” (嫌いなあいつのSNSを毎晩観察すろのが仕事.)

The exhibit itself was great fun, and Harada-san was there in a bright red uniform, signing her books and just generally being cheerful. There was a big turnout, mostly of very hip and artsy young women, and I ended up coming away from the show with a couple of books, some garish buttons, and a bag of stickers.

You can check out some of her online manga, very different than the work in Hitori-zumou, here.

Harada Chiaki makes the signspatrons of the artsteardrop of the insect heart


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