Jacob Hashimoto was at a creative crossroads.
A painting student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the 1990s, he recalls a period of struggling conceptually. The landscape-based abstraction paintings he was making at the time were generic, he says, “these voids and these giant empty space paintings,” like many art students make.
One day, he turned his attention to dozens of kites sitting in his studio.
“At the time, I was just building kites in my studio to fly in the park across the street,” he said.
Hashimoto taught himself how to make kites. But they symbolize a multi-generational history.
The New York-based artist’s grandfather, who emigrated from Japan to study chemistry, moved his family from California to Denver during World War II to avoid internment. The family didn’t have much money, but one thing his grandfather and his father could do together was take chopsticks from the kitchen and build kites out of them.
“It drove my grandma crazy, because they’re so poor and they’re taking this utensil they need to eat, for childishness and pleasure,” he said.
As a professor at Idaho State University, his father used to also fly the kites from his office window on spools of thread.
For Hashimoto, handmade kites, often made using paper and bamboo, have remained his signature image. He said incorporating kites, evoking joy and playfulness, brought a new energy to his art.
“By taking the kites as this object – this childish object, this object that is pancultural, this object I associate with my grandfather and my father – and integrating it into the artwork, it allowed me to recontextualize the things I was doing with abstraction,” said Hashimoto.
“That way, it was much more personal and tied to my personal narrative. Through that, building these three-dimensional paintings, I was able to change the viewers’ relationship with the spaces I was building.”
A solo exhibition of Hashimoto’s multi-layered artwork will be in the SITELab gallery space until March.
Irene Hoffmann, SITE Santa Fe’s director and chief curator, praises the range of references that show up in Hashimoto’s work, which she said opens it up to a wider group of viewers.
“You can see all these things in it, depending on your own visual history and your own perspective,” she said. “Are you seeing an echo of a post-war painter you love or maybe something that echoes a video game? And it’s the same thing, within the same work and visual language.
“There’s a sense of wonder and beauty, and the desire to step way back from the work and get up really close,” Hoffmann said. “Each vantage point delivers something different.”
The title of the show, “The Dark Isn’t the Thing to Worry About,” comes from the name of its central installation.
The large piece is made up of several modules of plastic kite-like pieces – made with resin, paper and bamboo – and multi-colored tiles hanging from the ceiling. Hashimoto described it as a grid structure that displays a combination of algorithmic, landscape and hard-edge abstraction themes.
The piece was originally created for a 2017 show in Chicago and most recently traveled to Sweden, but it will be made larger to specifically fit the SITELab’s unusual, triangular shape.
Its name, like most of Hashimoto’s works – others are called “These Strange Galactic Monsters for Whom Creation is Destruction” and “Light, Like Static Vanished into Shadows” – is Hashimoto’s way of expanding the audience’s way of thinking about the art.
Often with his work, he said, viewers are caught up in the beauty, the long, repetitive nature of his creative process, or its references to Asian culture. Instead, he wants viewers to take more complex looks into what the work could mean.
The title “The Dark Isn’t the Thing to Worry About,” Hashimoto said, refers to “all of the things you really should be worrying about instead of worrying about the dark, which seems kind of juvenile.”
“In some ways, I equate that fundamental fear as similar in some ways to what attracts us to abstract art. Especially my work, it’s a sense of childhood, its a sense of nostalgia, its a sense of beauty. It’s these things that are in some ways naïve concepts. Ironically enough, I think you should probably not be looking at them and looking at other things.”
Aside from the hanging installation, Hashimoto has also brought along several of his wall pieces. The works are made up of hundreds of circles of paper mounted on bamboo and strung together to make large, three-dimensional images.
As viewers approach the works, smaller designs that make up larger abstractions are more clearly visible. The smaller designs are made using thousands of cut pieces of custom paper made for Hashimoto at a Japanese paper mill.
“Some of them are really mandala-like, some are grid-based abstraction, some of them reference Prairie School architecture, some of them reference hard-edge painting from the ’70s, so there’s a huge amount of language in all of the pieces,” Hashimoto said of the smaller images.
In contrast, he noted his installations like “The Dark” are more architecturally-based, naturally feeling like large landscapes.
The idea, he said, is to transform an exhibition room so that it resembles spaces in the natural world.
“There should be a sense of your own scale in the world,” said Hashimoto, similar to sitting on the beach and watching waves crash in.
“(It) is this very special experience where you see this incredibly beautiful thing, but you also see power, and smallness and hugeness of the world around you,” he said.
He added that his work “should feel like taking a nap in a grove of trees and watching the light sparkle through the leaves and having that moment of quiet, peace and self-reflection and abandonment to the nature of existence.”
“And the problem is as a human being how do you create those spaces and create that feeling for the viewer?” Hashimoto continued. “And that’s kind of always been what I’ve been interested in.”