Reflections on The Paintings of Minami Kobayashi

By–Naoko Fujimoto

体温, oil on canvas, 64″ x 51”, 2007

In one of Kobayashi’s earlier oil paintings, she wanted to draw herself in a late teen woman’s body—soft, warm, pure like a white curtain and her shirts—lying on the tatami mattresses in Japan. Outside the windows, there is a gray anticipation. I can see far ahead, along with the sky over the buildings.

My late teen years were not like that. I was boney and grouchy, slept all day long, absent from high school classes. I did not feel the hope-like-image that Kobayashi captured. I did not know that my hazy feeling (which is called moya-moya in Japanese) was from the conflict of following Japanese social expectations and longing to be a free woman.

A fight Amongst Houseplants, egg tempera on cotton, 60×60″, 2018

This moya-moya feeling smoked around me for a long time—occasionally it still does—though, Kobayashi explores and describes it as a dog. The dog has a certain expectation from us. It gives us unconditional love. It is beautiful and wise, yet sometimes goofy. Is it us—Japanese women? The ghostly dog observes the story in these greens. From the left corner, there is a man in a car watching a fight between two women. The dog occupies the art like my moya-moya feeling.

In the Mirror in Her Room, egg tempera on cotton, 12×12″, 2020

When I worked in Japan, I hid my eczema under water-proof foundation before wearing red lipstick. My sweat and tears did not wash away the porcelain look. In the mirror, there was me in a simple style. Was I whispering, “What do I care for”?

At the Back Alley, egg tempera on cotton, 36×36″, 2019

I cared about this certain expectation—that was why I woke up and finished high school as if I served as a good young woman who was kind to children, men, and the elderly, who brought them hot tea no matter what—and I did. Though, I tried to find why the moya-moya followed me around. I tried to find answers from books, movies, and art… I recalled describing my feeling, which was not as kind as the dog that Kobayashi used.

It was nearly twenty years ago when I was laying down on the tatami mattresses. I would possibly be her mother’s age. I imagined myself huddled and stroking the young body saying, “You will pass this, but you don’t know when.” I would be her spiritual dog that licked her smudges off the water-proof mascara. Even though she sat on the street under piles of trash, I would be with her. The dog was always beside me. I did not realize it when Kobayashi was exploring her metaphor in her late teenage years.

Naoko Fujimoto was born and raised in Nagoya, Japan. Recent work appears or is forthcoming in POETRY, Kenyon Review, Seattle Review, Quarterly West, North American Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Prairie Schooner, Diode Poetry Journal, and PANK. She is the author of Glyph:Graphic Poetry=Trans. Sensory (Tupelo Press, 2020) and Where I Was Born (Willow Publishing, 2019). She is an associate & out-reach translation editor at RHINO Poetry.

Minami Kobayashi (b.1989 Japan) is a Japanese artist who is currently based in London. She makes figurative egg tempera and oil paintings which combine intimacy and mystery through their depictions of ordinary people, animals, and places that seem vaguely surreal and ever so slightly off- kilter.

She has had solo exhibitions at Goldfinch Gallery (Chicago) and Baby Blue Gallery (Chicago) and has exhibited in group shows at Tokyo Metropolitan Museum, Setouchi International Triennale 2019 (Japan), Western Exhibitions (Chicago), Stems gallery (Belgium), Dongdaemun Design Plaza (South Korea), and numerous other venues. She participated in a solo residency at Kate’s little angel (Los Angeles) Kobayashi’s work has been featured in publications such as New City (review, February 2019), Elephant Magazine (UK). She holds an MFA in Painting and Drawing from The School of The Art Institute of Chicago (2018) and a BFA in Painting from Tokyo University of the Arts (2016).

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