March 19 - May 11, 2024

Opening reception: Tuesday, March 19, 6-8pm

720 N Highland Avenue Los Angeles 


“Provoking laughter is a demanding, serious, even sacred, task.”  *1

- Hashi Hidebumi, curator, Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura

Nonaka-Hill is pleased to present Shinjiro Okamoto “Talkative”, an artist expressly acknowledged in Japan for his post-war art and unabashed observance of pre-war “Japanese-ness,” as well as his subsequent innovations in that country’s vital Pop Art movement. An art director, master printmaker and celebrated artist, Okamoto (1933 – 2020) is regarded manifestly for paving the way for what would become universally recognized as the Superflat and Micropop phenomena made mainstream in the 1990s by artists Takashi Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara. Oka-Shin, as he was affectionately referred during his long and varied career, emitted a generous, communicative presence, while his oeuvre throughout expressed darker psychological themes - equal parts “witty and disorderly” *2  paradoxically personal and popular. He once described his work as “a strange amalgam in which everything is what it is and at the same time is not.” *3 


An avid devotee of the aesthetics of the Edo period (1603 – 1868), which protected Japan’s insular culture, Shinjiro Okamoto grew up in working class Tokyo during Showa (1926 – 1981) and as a young teenager experienced the devastating U.S. fire-bombing of his home city in 1945. Largely self-taught, his drawing, painting, design and writing are heavy with nostalgia for the old low lying Tokyo neighborhoods and streets of his youth. Okamoto early on embraced a Nihonga style of working, which developed into a subjective language of simple outlines condensing characters and scenescapes, infused with carefully applied uniform acrylic paint of muted, fluorescent, pastel and high color tones – combinations typical in the history of Japanese packaging and design, and in Nihonga genres, but not yet particularly common in the West, even at the onset of Pop Art in the late 1950s. Prefacing Japan’s perceived godfather of Superflat Sadamasa Motonaga, Okamoto created “shadowy pictures without shadows'' as jocular, immersive surfaces that could elicit a range of cheerfully nihilistic emotions from humor to paranoia, elation to dread.


Okamoto's “One Indian …” (1964) shown at the Walker Art Center’s 2015 survey on International Pop – art historian Hiroki Ikegami writes: “because Okamoto began making his comic-book-style paintings in 1962, before the advent of American Pop in Japan, he refused to be classified as a Pop artist, as doing so would have misleadingly indicated that his art was a byproduct of American Pop.” *4   However, there is sure evidence that points to Okamoto’s clear appreciation of Western Pop’s influence globally (he must have been aware and supportive of Öyvind Fahlström’s representation of Sweden in the 1966 Venice Biennale given the remarkable visual rhetoric they shared from opposite sides of the world), and he particularly noted American Pop artists in his titles (Jim Dine was a friend) and made several artwork homages to Andy Warhol. In his1998; Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura; retrospective Okamoto notes, “Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein are famous practitioners of official, stereotypical, formalist subtraction,” *5 - subtraction Okamoto readily endorsed, but he also recognized the distinction in their endgame intentions: “I hope to produce an entertaining environment but one that does not pander to the viewer.” *6


The summer of 1964 was a time of unprecedented pride (and aggravation) as Tokyo prepared to welcome/despair the opportunity to prove Japan’s post-war recovery as Olympic Games host, and contemporary artists were ready with their cynicism, humor and action. In step with Hiroshi Nakamura and Tiger Tateishi’s “Sightseeing Art Research Institute” action on the banks of Tokyo’s Tama River and Hi-Red Center’s “Cleaning Event” and subway performances, Shinjiro Okamoto produced “Ten Indians” – high in color, low in expression (a comment on human alienation in post-war Japan) – and the following year invited ten individuals to each carry one from his opening exhibition at Sato Gallery to the Yoyogi National Gymnasium, built specifically to honor and awe athletes and visitors alike to the Games. The “Indian” series which Nonaka-Hill features, is a set of 10 line drawings from 1996 and is particularly emblematic of the artist’s embrace of systematic repetition (a virtuosic printer after all), where he recycles - over decades - motifs, insignia, structures, titles: Ten Indians, One Indian, The World of Insects, Betty Boop, Van Gogh, Warhol, Dine, Popeye, Marilyn, Don Quixote, Buddha, Chaplin, Dankichi – all classifications and characters that make repeated appearances in Okashin’s world.


“Few artists have shown the same ability as Okamoto in digging up the elements from their own experience necessary to reveal these conditions.” *7

- Ichiro Haryu, Art Critic

Shinjiro Okamoto offers a rare example of both pre-war and post-war mass culture sensibility as seen through Japanese eyes. This exhibition presents work from each decade 1956 – 1997 and includes early watercolors, pencil, acrylic on canvas, three dimensional paintings that incorporate plastic balls and wooden clogs, in an effort to convey the active, “talkative” if you will, nature inherent in Okamoto’s “luxuriously elegant and artificial paradise” *8  that simultaneously manages to retain the modest sensibility of his shitamachi (inner city) upbringing. In this selective survey at Nonaka-Hill, influences of political satirists (Saul Steinberg, Hiroshi Nakamura, Tiger Tateishi, Pino Pascali, Mario Schifano) are as apparent and pervasive as the Pattern and Decoration movement of 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s (Howardina Pindell, Tina Girourd, Miriam Schipiro, Lari Pittman) and reference the influence and history of decorative arts as pictorial political testimonies, then and now.


Shinjiro Okamoto (1933 – 2020) was the recipient of several awards during his lifetime, including the Niki Society Exhibition Shell Art Award (1956), Frontier Prize (1963), Shirataki Prize, and Accolades (1969) and the subject of many solo international exhibitions including BTAP, Beijing (2020), Shoto Museum of Art, Tokyo (2011), Ikeda Museum of 20th Century Art, Shizuoka (2001), Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura (1998), Niigita City Art Museum (1987). Institutional group exhibitions include Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art, Nagoya (2019), Takamatsu Art Museum, Kagawa (2016), Walker Art Center, Minnesota (2015), Ikeda Museum of 20th Century Art, Shizuoka (2000), Miyagi Museum of Art (1990), Museum of Modern Art, New York (1965).


Selected Public Collections include Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art (Kobe, Japan), Ikeda Museum of 20th Century Art (Shizuoka, Japan), Miyagi Museum of Art (Miyagi, Japan), Museo de Arte Contemporáneo (Ibiza, Spain), Museum of Contemporary Art, Belgrade (Belgrade, Serbia), Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo (Tokyo, Japan), Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura & Hayama (Kanagawa, Japan), Museum of Modern Art, Saitama (Saitama, Japan), Museum of Modern Art, Wakayama (Wakayama, Japan), National Museum of Art, Osaka (Osaka, Japan), National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo (Tokyo, Japan), Niigata City Art Museum (Niigata, Japan), Niigata Prefectural Museum of Modern Art (Ni4 of 5 igata, Japan), Takamatsu City Museum of Art (Kagawa, Japan), Tochigi Prefectural Museum (Utsunomiya, Japan), and Tokushima Modern Art Museum (Tokushima, Japan).



  1. Hidebumi, Hashi. “Welcome to Okashin World: A Few Words on the Laughing Art of Okamoto Shinjiro ''. Shinjiro Okamoto “The Laughing Panorama Museum''. (Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura, 1998), 68.

  2. Yoshie, Yoshida.“Generating a Primal Landscape, Attacking the Fictional City: The Critical Spirit of a Master Swordsman”. Shinjiro Okamoto “The Laughing Panorama Museum”. (Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura, 1998.), 11-12.

  3. Okamoto, Shinjiro. “Laughing Time Machine”. Shinjiro Okamoto “The Laughing Panorama Museum”. (Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura, 1998.), 15-16.

  4. Ikegami, Hiroko. “”Drink More?” “No Thanks!”: The Spirit of Tokyo Pop”. International Pop. (Walker Art Center, 2015.), 172

  5. Okamoto. “Laughing Time Machine”.

  6. Ibid.

  7. Haryu, Ichiro. “Art and Mass Culture of Shinjiro Okamoto.” The Exposition of Shinjiro Okamoto Tokyo Shonen. (Niigata City Museum of Art, 1988.), 140-141.

  8. Hidebumi. “Welcome to Okashin World''.

Installation Views