Hideaki Yamanobe

lives and works in Cologne, Dusseldorf and Tokyo

Dr. Peter Lodermeyer on Hideaki Yamanobe's paintings ... more >

The fullness of emptiness. Notes on the paintings of Hideaki Yamanobe
by Peter Lodermeyer

The paintings of Hideaki Yamanobe exude an immense calm and a concentrated strength, gathered in itself. With their unassuming, introverted yet self confident presence, they demand patient and attentive viewing. This firstly has to do with their considerable non-use of colour as they do not offer the eye any superficial colouristic stimuli which could be quickly linked with associations. Yamanobe usually focuses on the colours black and white and the countless blends of these two shades as nuances of grey. The objection that black, white and grey are, physically speaking, “non-colours” is as obvious as irrelevant: the painter sees only colour. Yamanobe’s white is, indeed, never pure white but, instead, is tinged with yellow due to a soft ochre stain which also makes it appear warmer, “like teeth” or “like rice” – comparisons from nature which Yamanobe draws very seriously. (If, in a few paintings, a strong English red does appear, it comes across almost as a dramatic show of colour amongst the quiet of the black-white-grey painting area: like a signal or appellative).

The reduction of the colouring guides the viewer’s attention to the material substance of the paintings, in particular, whereby even the smallest details of the texture become important. Yamanobe’s paintings want to be viewed not only in their light-dark values but also with regard to their material qualities. It is not coincidental that Yamanobe always uses a canvas support which is at least 4 to 5 centimetres thick, even for small format works, as this gives the work body, physical presence and object quality which also always appeals to the sense of touch. For the artist, born in Tokyo in 1964, the physical appearance of the body of his painting is associated with a very specific idea: it is important that he gives his paintings a certain look, similar to the rice cakes (mochi) which are traditionally given at Japanese new-year’s celebrations when they are cut into rectangular pieces – a little yellowish, slightly transparent, slightly irregular after baking and a little chapped at the edges. For western viewers the comparison of painting with food may be quite hard to comprehend especially as we in the West are not used to valuing the visual aesthetic qualities of foods as highly as the Japanese. Regarding this, the French philosopher Roland Barthes keenly observed: “Japanese raw food is basically visual nature; it describes a particular colour state of meat and plant food (whereby the colour is never exhausted in a catalogue of shades but is an indication of a whole spectrum of tactile qualities of the materials [...]). Wholly of visual character (meant for viewing, put together and worked, as for the view of a painter or illustrator), food says that it is not profound [...] No Japanese dish has a centre [...].[1]

This, too, applies to Yamanobe’s paintings. They do not have a centre, their appearance is “centrifugal” and the opposite of what is traditionally understood to mean composition and what Gerhard Richter once ironically summed up as: “Composition is when the main figure is in the middle.[2] Yet this is not a case of “all-over” either as seen in the works of Jackson Pollock or monochrome painting as Yamanobe’s works do not, strictly speaking, exhibit an equal distribution of colour application which the viewer could also imagine extending beyond the edges of the painting. In most of Yamanobe’s paintings, the edges are emphasized; they are seen in varying degrees of intensity and are usually the darkest areas of his paintings. As a result, the actual painting area is perceived as “empty” and it is only upon second viewing that a space reveals itself between the edges depicting “something”. This is undoubtedly where Yamanobe’s knowledge of traditional Japanese (and Chinese) landscape painting – in which emptiness plays a decisive role – has an effect. Yet while, in traditional Asian painting, there is a gaping emptiness between the motifs, painted in black drawing ink, the black areas of Yamanobe’s work (partly the still visible black background) tend to withdraw to the edges whilst the actual painting area appears veiled or shrouded by layers of white acrylic paint. It is only upon second viewing that you notice that these seemingly empty areas do, indeed, contain a whole wealth of “information”. However, the substantiation of these minimal hints into actual notions or ideas is left to the imagination of the viewer.

The different degrees of density of the white layers of paint on the black background result in soft varying nuances of lightness within the painting areas which reveal a certain depth when viewed for longer and from a distance. After looking at the paintings for a certain period, many reveal hints of landscapes. Note, however, that Yamanobe does not paint landscapes or abstract landscape patterns but, instead, allows the nuances in lightness which arise from the painting process to be viewed as proto landscape elements. One could almost say that the artist succeeds in articulating vague memories, or remnants of these, of landscape experiences in painting. The viewer may, for example, believe he has seen the blurred outlines of trees, mountains or even buildings in the fog or in dense snow flurries – the “cold” interpretation. Alternatively, you could also think of steam rising from hot springs – the “hot” version of associations of viewers who are familiar with the traditional Japanese open air steam baths (onsen).

Yamanobe places great importance on the ambivalence of the associations which his paintings trigger. This also applies to the scratching which characterises a large part of his works. These may, on the one hand, be seen as aggression or injury of the painting body or, on the other hand – with greater distance to the painting – they could suggest rain or water drops trickling down a window. To create these scratches, Yamanobe has, incidentally, found a typical Japanese instrument: after he noticed that steel combs and similar tools created lines which were too rigid and mechanical, he changed to the stalks of the traditional fans (uchiwa) from which he removed the paper. With the aid of the radial, extremely supple bamboo stalks of differing lengths, he manages to create a vibrant line drawing, never fully foreseeable, with numerous crossovers and variable breadths.

The ambivalence of the associative qualities of Yamanobe’s paintings can even be seen on the micro level of the colour application and brush style. Wave-like structures, so to speak, in the layers of white are typical of his paintings which evoke, for example, in their varying degrees of intensity, associations such as snakeskin, goose feathers or snow drifts (here again the “hot” and “cold” associations). These structures are created by a continually halting, “stuttering” application of the texture paste which is applied to the black background with a flat brush.

The openness and complexity of Yamanobe’s paintings which arises from the ambivalence of their impressions is based on a fundamental cultural duality: the artist, who has lived mainly in Germany for 20 years, succeeds in uniting a western defined understanding of painting which is wholly based on the painting processes (key words: monochrome, radical and colour painting) with a specific Japanese painting and material sensibility to create a very individual, quiet yet powerful visual language.

[1] Roland Barthes, Das Reich der Zeichen, Frankfurt am Main 1981, p. 36. (Engl. „Empire of Signs“)

[2] Quote from 1968 from: Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter, Maler, Cologne 2002, p. 70.


born in Tokyo
1985-91 Studies at the State Academy for Fine Arts, Tokyo
1991-93 Artist-in-Residence, Germany (Scholar of the Asahi-Brewery Art Foundation, Tokyo)
1993-94 Studies of Printmaking at the School of Deisgn, Basel

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Selected Solo and Group Exhibitions

2024 Galerie Biesenbach, Cologne (G)
Galerie Biesenbach, Cologne (S, online)
2023 OGATA, Paris (G)
Galerie Biesenbach, Cologne (S)
Städtische Galerie St. Andrä, Austria (S)
2022 Museum für neue Kunst Freiburg (G)
Galerie Biesenbach, Cologne (S, online)
Galerie Friedrich Müller, Frankfurt on the Main (G)
Galerie Biesenbach, Cologne (S)
2021 Galerie Biesenbach, Cologne (G)
Podium Kunst e.V., Schloss Schramberg (S)
Galerie Dittmar, Berlin (S)
Galerie Biesenbach, Cologne (S, online)
2020 Galerie Biesenbach, Cologne (S)
Galerie Friedrich Müller, Frankfurt on the Main (S)
Galerie Florian Trampler, Munich (S)
Galerie Biesenbach, Cologne (G)
Ogata, Paris (S)
Galerie Biesenbach, Cologne (G)
Galerie Biesenbach, Cologne (S)
Galerie Biesenbach, Cologne (G)
Galerie Biesenbach, Cologne (G)
HLP Galerie, Wesseling (S)
Galerie Friedrich Müller, Frankfurt on the Main (S)
2017 Galerie Biesenbach, Cologne (S)
Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg (S)
Galerie Dittmar, Berlin (S)
Neuer Kunstverein Gießen (G)
2016 Galerie Biesenbach, Cologne (G)
Galerie Biesenbach, Cologne (G)
Galerie Friedrich Müller, Frankfurt on the Main (S)
2015 Galerie Biesenbach, Cologne (G)
2014 Galerie Biesenbach, Cologne (S)
Galerie Biesenbach, Cologne (G)
Galerie Friedrich Müller, Frankfurt on the Main (S)
2013 Galerie Dittmar, Berlin (S)
Galerie Florian Trampler, Munich (S)
Galerie Arthea, Mannheim (G)
Galerie Biesenbach, Cologne (G)
2012 Marburger Kunstverein, Marburg (E)
Japan Art - Galerie Friedrich Müller, Frankfurt on the Main (S)
Galerie Wesner, Konstanz (S)
Galerie Biesenbach, Cologne (S)
2010 Schloss Randegg, Gottmadingen (G)
Kunstverein Nördlingen (G)
2009 Marburger Kunstverein, Marburg (G)
Japan Art - Galerie Friedrich Müller, Frankfurt on the Main (S)
2008 Residenzgalerie Salzburg (G)
Kunstverein Museum Schloss Morsbroich, Leverkusen (S)
2007 Jos Art Galerie, Amsterdam (G)
Museum Zündorfer Wehrturm, Cologne (S)
2005 Kunstraum 21, Cologne (S)
Japan Art - Galerie Friedrich Müller, Frankfurt on the Main (S)
Tokyo National University Museum, Tokyo (G)
2004 The Tokyo University Art Museum, Tokyo (G)
Kunsthalle Mannheim (G)
2003 Kunstraum 21, Cologne (S)
2002 Kunsthalle Mannheim (G)
Japan Art - Galerie Friedrich Müller, Frankfurt on the Main (S)
2001 Kunstraum 21, Cologne (S)
1999 Japan Art - Galerie Friedrich Müller, Frankfurt on the Main (S)
Japan Art - Galerie Friedrich Müller, Frankfurt on the Main (S)
1998 Kunstverein Hochrhein, Villa Berberich, Bad Säckingen (S)
1997 Kunstpreis der Sparkasse Karlsruhe (G)
Kunstverein Gundelfingen, Freiburg (S)
Salon de Printemps, Luxemburg (G)

Selected Public and Private Collections

  • Andaz, Toranomon Hills, Tokyo
  • Daiwa Bank, Osaka
  • Ernst Wilhelm Nay Stiftung, Cologne
  • Pola Art Foundation, Tokyo
  • Sparkasse Ravensburg
  • Städtische Museen, Heilbronn
  • The University Art Museum, Tokyo
  • Städtische Sammlung Schramberg
  • Museum für neue Kunst Freiburg        
  • Aman Residence Tokyo
  • Sammlung Stéphane Biesenbach




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