A fascination with motorcycles becomes art

Work to be displayed at The Something Machine


Motorcycles have their allure.

Their sleek robustness, gleaming pieces, and roaring thrust as the rider becomes one with the machine, are all elements of danger and freedom.

Ai Makita’s Harley-Davidson did all that for her. Then she became enamored of its seductive parts, colors and textures.

You can see the results of Makita’s amazing work in her multi-dimensional paintings spanning two corners at The Something Machine. She was at the exhibit, “Tectonic Shifts,” that opened on Saturday.

It’s the first U.S. exhibit for the Japanese-born artist. Born in Chiba, Japan, she works in Tokyo and Manhattan, where she has galleries.

How did she create these massive works, with pistons, carburetors, mufflers, and wires that seem to swirl and entwine, inviting you to touch them?

“I took many pictures of parts and combined them in Photoshop,” she said. “There were a lot of processes. Then for me, it’s very important to hand-draw the painting. I want to make it alive.”

She has created this motif over a 10-year period. “Before that, I painted landscapes and the usual, but I needed something more specific,” she said.

Her two paintings span 18 feet wide, 4 feet long, and are, quite frankly, jaw-dropping in their shaded grey, black, copper, and yellow subjects, with even an ethereal white popped in. “I use many pigments in the background,” she said.

It took three months of 15-hour days. (“I was like a prisoner in a studio,” she joked.)

Makita, a visual artist whose medium is oil painting and printing, was selected for a permanent collection at the Museum of Tokyo’s National University of Arts; she recently exhibited her work at the Consulate General of Japan for two months. Her resume is an impressive compilation of prestigious awards, fellowships and residencies.

Saturday’s show opened at 4 p.m. and within a half-hour, a hub of visitors, some with kids and dogs, walked into the gallery’s clean space.

“They’re amazing,” said Stony Brook resident Virginia Linzee in awe, looking at Makita’s work.

“They’re monumental,” added The Something Machine curator Jeffrey Uslip, who mingled with the crowd along with business partner and Pace Gallery executive vice president Peter Boris and co-curator Esther Flurey.

“You can see it’s torqued to one side,” observed Uslip. “These mufflers and cylinders are pulsating, like tectonic plates,” he said. “It’s all layers. She uses over 30 brushes.”

The tsunami in Japan was the inspiration for her landscapes; the exhibition’s title refers to the earth’s crustal movement.

“We’re talking about a post-Hiroshima generation,” Uslip added. “It’s the Tohoku earthquake and tsunamis that hit Japan in 2011 and then the Fukushima nuclear meltdown. (It was rated No. 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale.) When you add this all together, it’s nature versus technology, and you get this erotic chaos.”


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