Jean Nagai's paintings are interference patterns of bright hues that seem to move and vibrate. They are "uplifting and spiritual in the way that walking through the woods or smelling rain brings you back to your body," writes Jasmyn Keimig. It's similar to the visceral sense of embodiment I've always felt looking at Leaves (2002) by Gloria Tamerr Petyarre at the Seattle Art Museum. I asked Jean if he'd seen it and he responded "my mom loves that painting and I remember her telling me that I should make my paintings like Leaves." Like Leaves, there is motion and emotion in his work— a sense of intimacy, devotion, and accretion.
In Tone Police (2018) we see fields of bright violet, magenta, and coral obscured by a haze of white dots. The title works on a few levels— first, there's the verbal microagression, and second there's the art context of 'tone,' taken here to mean the whiting out or erasure of the colors below. It's a powerful metaphor that avoids being crass or obtuse. After working with correctional fluid in his paintings, Jean began to ask, "What does it mean to "White-Out" to correct a mistake?" Indeed, it’s a question worth asking considering the ubiquity of White-Out within bureaucratic institutions of power.
Ssssounds (2019) consists of color fields from a nocturnal palette reminiscent of aurora borealis scenes. Across undulating blues and purples dance a symphony of white dots like flight patterns of starlings or swirling night skies. The piece is a testament to Gestalt in the way that we can perceive each dot as static but at some point along the way towards seeing them all, the whole thing begins to move.
Three Sunrises (2018) employs a desert-southwest-turned-neon color palette to depict three stacked sunrises. The colors are washy fields and the white dots on top are less choreographed, this time acting more like static or white noise. The three sunsets might be a time lapse, multiple perspectives, or even a good acid trip. It matters less what we see here than what we feel when we look. "Art is a language of emotional experience," Jean says. "There are many ways of seeing or sensing; it's not with just our eyes or brains, the five senses. It is too limiting to perceive reality and emotions in that way."
Follow Jean on Instagram @jean_nagai