Paul Hamanaka was born in Kurobe City and lived in Japan till 1978. Moved to Paris in the Fall of the same year. After 3 years of study in Paris, moved to Tunisia, North Africa, and lived there for more than a year before coming to the United States. Arrived at Philadelphia in December 1982 and had lived in Philadelphia till May, 2017. Then, he moved to Tenerife in Canary islands, Spain and has been living there since 2018.
From THE NEW YORK TIMES review of the group show in New Rochelle, NY, 1998
Excerpt from Art Review: ´Shadows/Substance´: May the light be with you
Freyberger Gallery at Penn State U. Berks-Lehigh Campus, 2001.
Paul Hamanaka is a Japanese artist whose work investigates the Asian belief in “kuu”, which he describes in a statement as a shadow self, a nontangible state of being that exists beyond the five senses,” and may be marginally comparable to the Western concept of soul or spirit. Hamanaka is attempting, through New Age sculpture, painting, and installation, to make us aware — or at least recognize the possibility — of this state of existence.
Since the senses and intellect are the only tools we have to goad this concept into reality, these sculptural artworks are highly conceptual and necessarily cerebral — reduced to intellectual symbols that utilize illusion, metaphor and irony. They are emotionally charged but in a cool, quiet and curiously unattached way, as if in a trancelike state or a lucid dream. In fact, they almost seem like a surrealistic parable, message-ridden and purposeful in a moralistic albeit New Age mode of discourse.
Upon arriving at this exhibit, however, now on view at the Freyberger Gallery of PENN State Berks-Lehigh Valley College, one becomes quickly aware that here is an artist with an obvious tilt toward the metaphysical. Visitors are first requested to enter by a side door instead of the main entrance. This door opens into a partitioned and sparsely lit installation of threaded feathers that hangs from the ceiling and seemingly floats in midair like large flakes of snow. The feathers gently sway from the movements of visitors and subdued lighting casts soft shadows on the wall, doubling the effect of multitude and confounding the viewers’ sense of space.
At the end of the feathery corridor is a sculpture that consists of two white-plaster arms that extend from the wall at normal biceps level. As if in some kind of otherworldly yearning, they reach toward the viewer, palms up. the right, to our shock, holds an actual dead bird, which the artist found. The left hand, clenched very tight, squeezes amber-colored fluid between taut, inseparable fingers. The work is entitled, paradoxically, “Life”.
A existential degree of pain and suffering is also implied as hands grasp that which is hurtful or outside of the reach, something hot or sharp or merely unattainable. Another piece, entitled “Love,” displays a pair of arms reaching around a glowing fluorescent light bulb, embracing light.
The artist has stated: “I believe in the existence of soul. For me the soul lies in our mind in a sleeping state but from time to time it is awakened by certain existential experiences, and I am intrigued by the connection I perceive between shadow and soul. I have long been interested in the mysterious quality of shadow, which gives us a certain range of aesthetics. When I look at shadow, I feel that I am seeing reality and truth more clearly.”
The shadow indeed plays a most important role in his repertoire of symbols. Some works, like one entitled “Kuu 9704,” features a single brick attached to a piece of painted plywood. The gallery’s directional lighting, which was carefully set, casts dual shadows of the brick’s form on the wood’s surface. However, one of the shadows is real…, the other painted in a trompe l’oeil fashion, superimposed and drawing us in for a better look.
The same is done for other, similar works that hold an ordinary wooden box, a large spike or splayed electrical cables. In each version, he is comparing the shadow to an esoteric vision of a secondary, yet equally important spiritual existence.
A larger work, “Silent Music,” is done in wood, styrofoam and paint and consists of monochromatic white or pastel-pink fields indented into the surface of the work. Depending on the direction of light, or from what position one views it in the room, the surface texture becomes either positive or negative, causing the indents to either advance or recede.
An early work from 1980, called “My Fondest Memory,” is a large and straightforward easel painting of the shadow of many feet as they dance on a sandy beach. It was remarked by a visitor that the shadows appeared to be dancing on clouds.
The soul, the afterlife, heaven, mind travel, etc., has eluded concrete detection since the dawn of humanity and will probably continue to do so. It would seem that Hamanaka does not want to convert us as much as suggest that we need to look at our reality a little more closely.
The soul is not some submerged trait that only appears at the end of one’s life but rather something that exists inside of us and all around us, and is hooked to us every day like a conscience or an invisible skin that we only can see when the light is with us.
‘Shadows/Substance’: May the light be with you by Ron Schira Eagle/Times Correspondent Reading Eagle – Sep. 31, 2001
Odyssey ’79 – ’89
Camden County Community College, 1989
Crammed into the three rooms of the gallery, this ten year retrospective documents Paul Hamanaka’s development from a school of Paris figure painter to a Neo-expressionist. “Odyssey 79-89” is certainly not a journey down the Yellow Brick Road. Though he studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Hamanaka is much more easily associated with the sensibility of contemporary European rather than american art. Those who seem to have provided him with aesthetic to inspiration are such international figures as Lucio Fontana, Alberto Burri, and Anselm Kiefer.
His art can be very unsettling. there is a definite sense of angst in many of Hamanaka’s aggressive pieces. With sharp blades, glass, and shards of barbed wire projected off surfaces. These paintings physically keep a viewer at arm’s distance. They suggest the sorts of intense feelings of despair and hopelessness that had also given rise to Europe’s punk movement. Hamanaka´s best work is his earliest “La meilleure Memoire” is a diptych dealing with light and cast shadows. Our vintage point is so close to the ground that we nearly loose sight of the people in favor of pure abstract design. An exquisite pencil study is also included. The implication of these images could have been explored further. Instead, the artist reacted against these flat pictorial surfaces to create pieces that combine painting and sculpture.
By the mid-80’s, 3-D human hands project off Hamanaka’s ripped, slashed, or torn canvases. Though these sculptural limbs are papier-mâché, they are painted to suggest bronze patina; their expressiveness is reminiscent of details from Rodin’s “Burghers of Calais.” The sense of aggressive violence immediately causes one to suspect some inner turmoil. “Who Said Art Was Over?” is representative of his pessimistic period. What a thirtysomething he must have experienced!
Hamanaka’s most recent work on the other hand, seems much more tame. He appears to have gotten the monkey off his back. for example, in “Trace”, barbed wire is embedded within the richly textured surface of acrylic gel and sand. A new odyssey has now begun.
by Robert Eliot MORE REVIEWS – Dec. ’89-Jan. ’90- Art Matters-Page 5