Last December, Yoshihiro Kitai burst upon the local scene with a dazzling show at Portland Art Center, full of gold and silver leaf upon swaths of oversized paper. In their imagery, the works evoked clouds and shifting banks of mist. With their dazzling metallic finishes offsetting a more delicate pictorial sensibility, the pieces possessed a beauty born of paradox.
Fast-forward nearly a year, and Kitai has come forward with a show at Pulliam Deffenbaugh that is equal to his previous outing in visual appeal, if more nuanced in conception and execution. Born in Japan, Kitai, a Pacific Northwest College of Art graduate who now teaches at the school, aims to integrate Eastern and Western traditions in his work. He succeeds in this goal brilliantly, marrying the miasmic mystery of Japanese drawing with the glitz and bling of contemporary American hip-hop.
As in the PAC show, Kitai chooses clouds as his subject matter, but instead of rendering them in broad sheets of leaf, he pixelates the picture plane with tiny metallic and watercolored dots, suggesting a myriad of dewdrops converging in quasi-pointillist fashion. In works such as MWC-38 , the colors are so low-contrast—gunmetal blues among the silver—it becomes difficult to discern where one form ends and another begins, whereas in paintings such as the sprawling MWC-39 , there is a clearer individuation of greens, oranges and purples among the silver drips.
In a different series called Inscribe , the artist pricks holes in paper sheets with stickpins, creating subtle, white-on-white paths that meander through the image. There is a prissy self-consciousness, perhaps even a gimmickry, to this series absent from the meatier MWC pieces, perhaps because Kitai's style works better in nebular compositions than linear ones. He is at his strongest and most integrative in floaty, unnucleated mode, his billowing gasses delicate and noncommital, even as the obsessive exactitude of their execution veers toward conspicuous self-assertion. Kitai, who did not speak English when he first moved to the United States, says he finds the works analogous to a foreigner's assimilation into the American melting pot: Each tiny dot of paint or gilding represents an individual in a collective whole. This is a pat, simplistic explanation for artworks that are neither pat nor simplistic.
Pulliam Deffenbaugh, 929 NW Flanders St., 228-6665. Closes Dec. 1.