Hiroshi Nagai’s Sun-Drenched Pop Paintings Pay Homage to California


WordsManon Baeza

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Flat tints of vibrant colours and sophisticated American decor. From beaches and palm trees to swimming pools and even villas, minimalist architecture and summer scenes quickly emerge as a recurring theme in the work of Hiroshi Nagai, one of the most atypical and indeed talented Japanese artists of his generation. Born in 1947 in Tokushima, on the island of Shikoku in the south-west of the archipelago, the artist soon decided to specialise in illustrations for record sleeves of popular Japanese music.

His beautifully polished style recalls the work of English painter David Hockney, known for his pop style, Californian influences and vegetable- and mineral-based scenographies. Like Hockney, Hiroshi Nagai has the gift of transporting viewers to the west coast of America as it was in the 1950s, as he does in his series Poolside.

The painter is part of the ‘City Pop’ art movement which emerged in the 1970s. It’s inspired by the aesthetic of the ‘soft pop’ current in music, also known as ‘sunshine pop’, which originated from Southern California and that can mainly be heard in advertising jingles. Soft pop is very popular in Japan and transports listeners to a place characterised by salty air, suntans and the noise of waves.

Hiroshi Nagai is sometimes influenced by Magritte and Dali, but pop art remains his main source of inspiration. As he explains to cultrface:

‘Without American pop art I would not have started painting the way I did. This experience made me paint my summer skies as deep blues from that point on. That said, surrealism was also a big influence, and of course hyper-realism.’

Nagai only gained recognition at the start of the 1980s, but it’s lasted. His dazzling, colourful works continue to bewitch the art world and seduce lovers of pop art.

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