John S. Couch’s solo show at the Topanga Canyon Gallery is entitled “Chuushin,” which means “The Center” in Japanese. Chuushin is composed of two kanji characters: middle and heart.
For the artist, the poetry of the characters evolved from the sense of being in the middle of a maelstrom during the pandemic. Couch’s palette didn’t darken but actually became an explosion of color—the paintings transformed into talismans against the ever-escalating stresses of climate change, political strife, and COVID-19. But the color black remained as a memento mori of the impermanence of life.
His works feature abstract compositions created with Japanese polymer on canvas that draw on his mixed Japanese-American heritage. The 6’ x 4’ canvases are matte and flat but in spite of lacking the western notion of depth via chiaroscuro, the works have a depth evoked by layers of repeating patterns that reference ancient ukiyo-e woodblock prints. The works make visual reference to abstract expressionism as well as the Gutai art movement of the1950s. While referencing the works of the past, Couch has synthesized something that feels simultaneously ancient and modern.
The Zen concept of ichi go ichi e—one time, one meeting—is imbued into Couch’s work. The paintings are a record, almost an artifact of the artist’s encounter with the medium as a way to create an image that both confronts the brutality of our shared cultural reality while acting as a sigil against more strife. The body of work, taken as a whole, acts as frames from a film, a documentary of the artist’s understanding that we have now and only this moment to experience reality. One time, one meeting.
The artist finished the series with a monochromatic self-portrait signaling his completion and peace with the process. It’s not a flattering self-portrait as through the rough brushwork he looks almost pained, eyes closed, but perhaps finally resigned. Chuushin is about finding courage in the face of the unknown, embracing discomfort and change; it’s about finding one’s place at the center of it all.
Chuushin will be exhibited from July 29th – August 14th.
Opening reception will be on July 30th, from 4:00pm – 8:00pm with a very special musical performance by Taylor McFerrin.
Topanga Canyon Gallery, 137 S Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga
Gallery Summer Hours: Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays 1pm – 7pm