People in the Arts

Sush Machida’s sneaky Zen koans and the importance of mindfulness

Photo: Katarina Hradilek
Dawn-Michelle Baude

Four and a half stars

Tokyo in Vegas: Vision Collision Through September 27; daily, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; $5-$19. Springs Preserve’s Big Gallery, 702-822-7700.

Are you paying attention? Really paying attention? Would you say you’re mindful of what you’re reading? Are you mindful when you look at Sush Machida’s paintings? You’d better be. These canvases are sneaky Zen koans—wake-up calls to experience. Machida’s Springs Preserve show, Tokyo in Vegas: Vision Collision, might come across as Pop Art, but if you stop there, you’ve really missed it.

These paintings take time. They take thought. The Tokyo-Vegas premise of the title—a natural for the Japan-born/Las Vegas-based artist—is a good start. The 11 large-format paintings featuring cute Japanese-y animals, Chanel logos and Hello Kitty! candy colors seem perfectly at home in the throbbing, blitzy Strip-scape. So do those neon-tube contour lines and bold “SMG” logos (artist’s initials plus the Japanese honorific, “Gaikotsu”). But the bright, slick surface of the paintings is deceptive. It’s almost as if the weeks it takes Machida to produce a single canvas—an exacting process involving rollers, spray, ultra fine No. 2,000 sandpaper and hand-shaved brushes—translates into a meditative viewing requirement.

Just stand for a while in front of “Seventeen,” a 96-inch-by-120-inch canvas of contoured wave patterns in pink, blue, green and black. Machida uncannily renders the fluid dynamics of a sloshing ocean into a kind of mind-frame redux of slo-mo foam and spray. The cresting waves become trees, become bonsai, become beckoning fingers or “horns” or the index digit pointing into the vortex. What was water becomes a hilly landscape, taking on 3D volume before snapping back into flat perspective. If you wait long enough, the image empties out. It becomes a pattern raked into sand by a monk in a Zen temple garden.

In “UGCP,” an 8-foot-by-23-foot tour de force, Machida’s calligraphic lines service crisp, hard-edge forms that almost function as kanji (pictographic characters). Dominating the composition with weirdly cheerful superpower force are two neon-lipped, flower-eyed ornamental carp. To their right sit a banana, a pine-shaped air freshener labeled “Super Size,” a Marlboro pack, scrolling paper and an SMG signature bouquet. On the left, giant blossoms float in polka-dot bubble water, stocked with stray M&M’s; teeny kitties, frogs, fish and fruit; and a USDA sticker.

Like a good koan, the meaning of the “UGCP” resists summary. But here’s a hint: the M&M’s ping Machida; the “Super Size” label hooks both super-sized carp and painting; the cigarette packet alludes to a standard scale marker for Japanese fisherman photographing their catch. Etc.

While interpretation of artworks is satisfying, in this exhibition it almost misses the point. Machida’s Tokyo in Vegas is finally about pattern. It’s the one in the tiger’s coat, the one in the clouds, the one in nature. And mostly, the one in your mind.

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