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It’s a concept, a painting, a sculpture, a photo. It’s a perky little critter with an open mouth. It’s a Japanese cobalt blue. It boats, soars, swims, gives offerings and makes paper dolls and puppets in its own image. In fact, it readily multiplies—not one creature, but hundreds of reproductions, on T-shirts and stickers, in clay miniatures and tea cookies. It prefers two-dimensional, hard-edged profiles that accentuate its one giant, all-seeing eye. It’s oddly cheerful, given its occasional resemblance to a plastic glove. It’s Nu.
Nu is the alter ego of P3Studio artist-in-residence Nao Uda. Created in 2006 from the strain of Uda’s Japan-U.S. move, Nu is both the maker and the subject of Uda’s multidisciplinary artworks, a canine-like thing obsessed with its own image. At the Cosmopolitan’s P3Studio, five untitled paintings of Nu, featuring bright mixtures of flat colors, hang in one room. In the other, photographs of viewers—snapped next to the Nu paintings—proliferate in a string-and-board weaving, gradually covering the walls during the residency. Each photograph is labeled with the viewer’s title for a painting, such as “Is this enough water for you to grow?” and “Which one of us is lost?”
In conceptualizing the Nu universe, Uda follows in the footsteps of mighty artists like Marcel Duchamp and Jean-Michel Basquiat. But rather than playfully transgressing gender as Duchamp did or staging a mock-corporate takeover like Basquiat, Uda’s “Nu” persona—an acronym of the artist’s initials—is a tender, and even vulnerable, outing of self.
One of the strongest paintings depicts a flying Nu in a super-flat and minimal landscape—sky, mountains, water. Part alien, part mammal, Nu gulps the air as its limbs and ear spread almost like fingers from its body, its mouth nearly as big as its legs. Nu’s single, dotted, fried-egg eye conveys an astonishment potentially bordering on panic. The gaping mouth suggests hunger for experience, while the witnessing “eye” tries to take it all in. The other paintings are just as graphic but even more minimal, the content functioning like symbolic pictographs. One of the paintings illustrates bounty, another caregiving.
In opting for a Pop Art visual style reminiscent of Keith Haring—and commercializing her art as Haring did—Uda risks building an artistic identity on a derivative foundation. Although the emotion in Uda’s work, as well as its personal content, nudges her away from Haring, it can’t quite negate his siren’s call. That said, Nao has an excellent sense of color and a sensitive line, as well as a knack for replicating an idea in multiple media. As Nu’s constant stare suggests, the 30-year-old artist is one to keep an eye on.