Paintings that are restrained, austere, or slow to read can often be met with a prickly response when it comes to the art world.

Indeed, the old war between the avant-garde and the bourgeoisie, hailing from at least as far back as the Salon des Refusés and coming into sharper focus with the Dadaist of the twentieth-century, left us with a legacy of believing progressive art dives into chaos, tussles with everything, and can look like anything.

For those looking for a respite from the chaos, Osamu Kobayashi’s pop-colored oil paintings (currently on view at artist-run gallery, Underdonk, in Brooklyn) might be the relief you seek.

2016, Boogie, oil on canvas, 23 x 21 72dpi

“Boogie,” oil on canvas, 2016, 23 x 21

The works are somehow austere and playful at once: composed of only a few painterly decisions that still seem spontaneous and often humorous.

Cartoons, human organs and mid-century biomorphic design are all evoked by Kobayashi’s use of color and form. An important antecedent for these paintings may be the great Mary Heilmann, whose practice is more expansive than Kobayashi’s, but whom makes similarly bold works from a few eccentric but thoughtful choices.

2015, Couple, oil on linen,10 x 8, 72dpi

“Couple,” oil on linen, 2015, 10″ x 8″

“Wiggle,” a small, symmetrical painting of yellow, with a pink undulation going up the middle, manages to make me think of Roxy Paine’s poured polyethelene sculptures and the wild eighties aesthetics of the Memphis Group. In this piece, the butter-thick layer of yellow paint comes forward while the silk-screen smooth pink moves back. Yet then these relationships flip like a Rubin’s vase (the infamous optical illusion).

This strategy is used in a few other Kobayashi’s works, where pitting a manicured flat surface against a solid, thicker layer of color, perfectly raked through by the texture of the brush, looks like the grooves of a record.

2016, Wiggle, oil on linen, 10 x 8, 72dpi

The two standout canvases, “Light Show” and “Water Man,” both feature long, tubular brushstrokes that run off the edge of the canvas, effectively framing the color field that forms the background.

“Light Show” sets a pair of blue and yellow rainbow-like arches against a field of chocolate brown, one feathered smooth- by a fan brush perhaps—and the other left with the streaks of a harder bristle brush.

“Water Man” is filled with an airy, cotton candy pink, overlaid with a minimal scaffolding of electric blue tubes, caressed and streamlined, as though they were extruded from industrial machinery.

Both paintings, but mostly “Water Man,” recall the lost style of tubism, a term originally used derisively by Louis Vauxcelles, the early twentieth century critic, to describe Fernand Léger’s variations on cubism. While not applicable to all of Kobayashi’s work, tubism evokes for me a humorous irreverence mixed with the melding of industrial and organic forms, which I think is very much in the spirit of these paintings.

2016, Water Man, oil on canvas, 60 x 58 72dpi

What is most satisfying in Kobayashi’s work, for me, is his firm resolve, a single-channel effort that underlies each work and seems capable of hushing the nagging voices of doubt that plague most other artists. Not that I think these works were produced without a struggle, but they seem assured of their direction, which is appreciable when there seems to be chaos all around. (Alessandro Keegan)

Osamu Kobayashi’s “Woogie” is on view at Underdonk, 1329 Willoughby Ave. Brooklyn, NY, August 13th -September 11th.


“Two,” oil on linen, 20″x18″ 2016