First published: Summer 2013
In the outsider art field, often the modesty of an artist’s materials or art-making methods belies the depth or breadth of his or her oeuvre’s grandest, most serious themes. (Think of Adolf Wölfli’s creation of the universe rendered with coloured pencils, or Jimmy Lee Sudduth’s finger paintings made with mud, found pigments or house paint on wood scraps.) Sometimes, too, an artist might set out to address a big, weighty subject, only to do so with what appear to be the most humble stylistic or technical means. The inherent incongruence or tension in this relationship between self-taught artists’ aesthetic or intellectual objectives and their available or chosen means is one of outsider art’s common characteristics.
In Japan, the 67-year-old, self-taught artist Hiroyuki Doi, a former master chef who worked in some of Tokyo’s top restaurants, has been making abstract drawings in ink on paper for several decades. Since his art first emerged on the international scene in a solo exhibition at the now-defunct Phyllis Kind Gallery in New York in 2002, Doi’s compositions, which are made up of little more than dense groupings of tiny black circles, have become increasingly complex in form and ever more expansive in the themes they have addressed.
Doi described the evolution of his art during an interview at his home and studio earlier this year. His small, plant-filled workspace is located in the Asakusa district of northeastern Tokyo. Doi observed that, for him, “using circles to produce images has provided soothing relief from the sadness and grief” he has felt since the death, many years ago, of his youngest brother from a brain tumour. Since then, Doi has created works that have alluded, as he puts it, to such themes as “the transmigration of the soul, the cosmos, the coexistence of living creatures, human cells, human dialogue and peace”.
He feels strongly about art that reveals the touch of its maker’s hand; that is to say, he believes that the most soulful, expressive artworks do let viewers know that they were made by fellow humans, not by machines.
Doi’s creations are the opposite of those contemporary art products whose designer-marketers strive to eliminate any evidence of the touch of the human hand in their finished offerings, which they do not hand-craft themselves, but instead send out to fabricators to manufacture according to their specifications. “I want to create works that will convey to future generations a message about the importance of this human touch, not only in art, but in all communication in general”, Doi explained.