Tetsuya Noda: Soft and Simple Depth

Spring Group Exhibition at the Andrew Bae Gallery


Underneath the clanging Brown Line tracks lies the Andrew Bae Gallery, a haven from the crowded city streets. One of River North’s iconic contemporary art spaces, the gallery is an important site for both up-and-coming and established Asian artists who merge traditional artistic techniques with bold new ideas. A recent group exhibition featured some of the gallery’s most innovative and boundary-pushing artists, offering viewers a wide range of aesthetics, materials and topics. One artist particularly stood out for his fusion of mediums and subtle humor: Tetsuya Noda.

Considered one of the world’s most innovative contemporary printmakers, Tetsuya Noda has achieved international fame. His work is held in prominent collections and has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions, including an upcoming show at the Art Institute of Chicago in spring 2020. Despite his global recognition, Noda has long been a staple of the Chicago art scene. The Andrew Bae Gallery has displayed Noda’s work for almost 30 years since opening its doors in 1990.

The understated and peaceful environment of the gallery may not reflect Noda’s celebrity, but it certainly provides the perfect setting for his intimate and intricate work. His works are hung separately from the rest of the group, in a private space that requires visitors to view each creation up close.

At first glance, one might think Noda’s works are conventional photographs, so real and complex is each image. However, there is also an inexplicable element of abstraction, from the blurred shapes to the odd coloration. In many works, there is also a graphic quality reminiscent of sketches. In fact, Noda’s work embraces both of these artistic methods, as well as a third—printmaking. His process has been perfected over 50 years and begins with photography, which is translated into Japanese woodblock printmaking and screen printing. The final prouct is put together and duplicated using his mimeograph machine. This is what makes his work so unique—and so complex that other artists have refused to use his painstaking methods.

While his technical approach is difficult, Noda’s subject matter is far simpler. He photographs the scenes around him as they occur naturally. As a result, his work often features gifts from his friends, like bouquets of flowers or bushels of vegetables, or intimate moments in the life of his family. And nothing summarizes the nature of Noda’s work better than the title of his series, which he has used since he began his practice 50 years ago: Diary. For Noda, each work is an entry in his lifelong artistic journal.


Tetsuya Noda, 194 Diary; Mar 3rd '77, 1977. Woodcut and silkscreen print. 17.5 x 25.25 in. Image courtesy of Andrew Bae Gallery.


One of the oldest works on display is 194 Diary; Mar 3rd ’77. This picture contrasts the familiar household surroundings with ghostly figures spinning through the room. However, the story behind the image—of Noda’s children dancing to music in a family friend’s home—is charming. It invites the viewer to enter into Noda’s life and memories. At the same time, by blurring the children’s faces, Noda encourages his audience to project their own experiences into this image. Though personal and intimate, Noda’s scenes are simultaneously universal.

While motion is a feature of 194 Diary and some of his other older works, many of his recent compositions highlight naturally occurring still lifes. Noda imbues these scenes of stillness with a sense of time and movement in poignant ways, as in 452 Diary; Sept. 10th ’06. A centerpiece of the exhibition, this work depicts the aftermath of Noda’s 2006 solo exhibition at the Andrew Bae Gallery. Wine glasses—remnants of crowds passing through hours before—have been left in neat stacks along the windowsill beneath the gallery sign. Through layers of ink, Noda transforms this scene of waste into a singular moment of serenity, a touching scene of clean-up and contemplation after the excitement of an opening.


Tetsuya Noda, 452 Diary; Sept. 10th '06, 2006. Woodcut and silkscreen print, 23.5 x 36.75 in. Image courtesy of Andrew Bae Gallery.


Many of Noda’s works lack vibrant color, a choice he makes as he adapts photographs into prints. However, that does not mean he omits color. Instead, Noda explores relationships between colors, employing various shades to achieve the delicate look he desires. In 452 Diary, for instance, he layers whites upon whites and grays upon grays to emphasize the subtle differences in the colors we encounter every day.

Occasionally, Noda does venture into the realm of color, approaching the issue with bold originality. One of the most intriguing works on view is 450 Diary; Feb 12 ’06, depicting a bouquet of flowers. Embracing this traditionally beautiful subject matter, Noda uses color to find new ways to examine the loveliness of the scene. Rather than embracing the original orientation of colors, Noda switches the shades, making the flowers and leaves gray and white and transforming the background into a vibrant yellow. The flowers maintain their complex shading and gradation yet appear colorless against the bright backdrop. This reversal reveals hidden details in the flowers and offers a new way of viewing these everyday objects.


Tetsuya Noda, 450 Diary; Feb. 12th '06, 2006. Woodcut and silkscreen print, 10 x 20 in. Image courtesy of Andrew Bae Gallery.


While the show only includes a sampling of Noda’s work, it nevertheless illustrates the genius of his artistry and skill as a printmaker. The subjects and themes may be quotidian—in fact, as a diary of Noda’s life, one would expect no less. Yet through their very ordinariness, these works become relatable and personable. Through Noda’s complex process of transformation and recreation, these objects take on new significance and uncover hidden beauty. This show is truly both a sensory and serene experience, one that awakens a new perspective on the seemingly unremarkable moments in our lives

By Emelia Lehmann


"Tetsuya Noda: World According to Tetsuya Noda" was on view at the Andrew Bae Gallery, Chicago, from March 1 through March 30 of 2019.


Emelia Lehmann is a recent graduate of the University of Chicago and an aspiring arts professional. An avid writer and researcher, she loves exploring the incredible arts and cultural opportunities in Chicago.



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