IN A WESTERN MIRROR

18  PAINTINGS ON THE LIFE AND ART OF

ROGER SHIMOMURA

The Can Company    oil on canvas    12 x 12”


The title refers to the Continental Can Company building which was home to graduate painting an sculpture students at Syracuse University in the 1960s. The picture shows a kurugo cartoon head against a katakana background. Kurugo are black clad stage hands in kabuki theater who are considered invisible although they are on stage with the actors. The background text is katakana, the Japanese phonetic alphabet used for foreign words and terms. The words HAMBURGER, HOT DOG, ICE CREAM  and WHISKEY describe the standard diet for a Can Company painter in 1967. All of the paintings in this series are mirror images, so the text is seen in reverse.

This series was painted between 2002 - 2007

Inverhouse    oil on canvas    22 x 16”


A kurugo cartoon head against a mirrored background of katakana and English. The text reads WHISKEY and INVERHOUSE. Because of its price, Inverhouse was the scotch of choice at the time.

   The Continental Can Company

Inverhouse   version  2    oil on canvas    16 x 14”


The push-out pivot windows at the Can Company were notorious for jamming, and forcing them open invited a trip to the emergency room. One winter afternoon, while he was already nursing a sutured arm gash from a fight in which he’d gone through a storm door, Roger suddenly bolted out of the studio. From an open window I watched his car fishtail out of the parking lot and race away toward downtown Syracuse. Suspecting the worst I went into his studio looking for blood. Joe Pacheco, the painter in the studio next to Roger’s, saw what I was doing and started to laugh. “Roger’s OK,” he said, pointing to a radio on the work table, “They just announced a sale on Inverhouse scotch.”


The text in the mirror reads: We thought he’d hurt himself again and was rushing to the hospital, but it was just a sale on Inverhouse scotch.

  Mirror with a Bamboo Frame    oil on canvas    14 x 14”


  A mirror reflecting an American flag.

War Puzzle    oil on canvas    19 x 18”


The mirror image of a crossword puzzle showing the words WORLD, WAR  and MIDWIFE. WAR refers to World War II.  MIDWIFE refers to Roger’s grandmother Toku Shimomura, whose WWII diary is a source of much of his imagery.

Steam on a Mirror    oil on canvas    17 x 17”


A hazed-over mirror showing a crossword puzzle with the words MINIDOKA, ZAP, JAP, LION, NIPPON, TOJO, ISSEI.

The Worst Kabuki in the World    oil on canvas    12 x 12”


The memory of a joke.

                      “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”

Wash basin, ceramic turkey, six month old banana and a silver 

slime trail assembled at the Can Company in 1967 as a practical

joke on visiting artist Allan D’Arcangelo.

Gaijin    oil on canvas    13 x 13”


Okubi-e is a style of Japanese block print depicting the faces of kabuki actors. Seven paintings in the Western Mirror series show close-ups of faces caught at the edge of a mirror. These paintings have two faces pressed eye to eye as if they were butting heads. Gaijin is a Japanese word for foreigner.

Okubi-e with Two Mirrors    Oil on canvas    17 x 17”


Mirror images, split cartoon heads which become a third face, word puzzles, steam haze and digital mosaic pixellation are techniques used in this series to obscure information from a viewer and make it difficult to see a face as human.

The Worst Kabuki in the World   version 2    oil on canvas      20 x 21”


The title refers to a bad reaction to a Broadway play. The painting depicts a traditional Japanese theater curtain, but to someone familiar with kabuki the vibrant color and reversed pattern arrangement would make the image appear all wrong.

Okubi-e with Three Mirrors    oil on canvas    19 x 19”

Gaijin   version 2    oil on canvas    20 x 20”


Two faces in a mirror. On the left a cartoon kurugo, on the right a face with a prize-fighter’s smashed eye made unrecognizable by the use of mosaic pixellation.

View from a Window    oil on canvas    15 x 16”


The only painting in the series that is not a mirror image. The words AMERICA and SHIMOMURA are written as barbed wire in katakana.

Memory and Censorship    oil on canvas    15 x 15”


A cartoon thought made unreadable through digital distortion.

Memory and Censorship   version 2    21 x 15”


The painting refers to an incident in 1967 where Roger’s fellow painters were unwilling to believe that he and his family had been imprisoned on the basis of race.

Composition on a Square    oil on canvas    18 x 18”


Cartoon kurugo ears against a background of two yellows, a reference to a Shimomura piece entitled “Yellow No Same.”

The red slashes depict “san”, the Japanese number three, and act as a shorthand in some of the paintings for Sansei or third generation Japanese American.

Reflections of a Friend    oil on canvas    17 x 16”


As  explained in the story accompanying this series the title refers to McCoy Tyner’s jazz album Echoes of s Friend. The painting is about age and the passing of time. The cartoon head is seen through the trifocal glasses I wore as I painted it.

The Can Company   version 2    oil on canvas    17 x 17”


The number “san” as a mirror reflection against a background of Syracuse University orange. The vibrant color of the two Can Company paintings refers to the florescent spray-can colors used by grad painters in 1967.

© Photo “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” copyright Roger Shimomura

© “Oriental Masterprint” 1973 (detail) copyright Roger Shimomura

© “Kabuki Party” 1988 (detail) copyright Roger Shimomura

Images used by permission of the artist

Pixelized face image is in the public domain

© Paintings, texts and Can Company photos copyright Wayne Miller