This exhibition is undoubtedly surfing on a current visual zeitgeist which has been building for years. Interest in Japanese visual culture and tattoo culture is certainly at a high point, coinciding with fashion's waxing and waning fascination with punk rock and the completion of rockabilly and burlesque's absorption into the mainstream. I would have to, however, disagree with any suggestion that either of these artists are particularly important.
I found the representation of women at times a little disturbing, particularly in Yumiko's fetishised, overtly sexual, gangly teenaged figures. There expressionless faces, with disconcertingly uniform mouths, gaze out with empty, pseudo-seductive eyes. The unreal, decorative mixture of pattern, simplified female form and carefully rendered flora and fauna, are located in an environment so utterly flat that mercury would not know where to roll. Though whimsical and blatantly sexual, the contourless flesh and expressionless faces are extremely un-erotic.
Niagara's women are a little more familiar, and are much more powerful than Yumiko's sex doll figures. Though comic book like, they have a textural depth and scintillating lustre. Most of her works, coming from a location somewhere between a 40s 50s Noir Film and pulp comics, are highly attractive, but lack depth and articulation. This problem is resolved in her more recent Opium series, which I found extraordinarily beautiful and sensual. In these, female faces with the flagrant yet dreamy eyed expression of Tamara de Lempicka women gaze out from patterned, textural, glimmering jewel like surfaces.
Niagara's work made this exhibition for me, her figures, although as fetishised and fantastical as Yumiko's, have a certain dialogue and power within them, which I feel the other artist's lacked. To me they come from a similar place as Jaime Hernandez's Locas, sexually self-aware, punky, plucky women who exist in an reality, similar, but quite divorced from out own. A show of Niagara and Hernandez would certainly be interesting, the dialogue between different approaches to women and narrative could certainly be illuminating.
Niagara & Yumiko: The Good, The Bad & The Beautiful is at the Richard Goodall Gallery until the 19 October 2008