Roger Shimomura: ‘All American’

Cristin Tierney Gallery (219 Bowery, Floor 2, New York, NY) presents “All American,” a solo exhibition of paintings by Roger Shimomura. The exhibition opens Friday, April 26 and will be on view through June 8, 2024. This is the artist’s first solo exhibition in New York in over a decade and his first solo show at the gallery.

Through juxtaposition of contemporary America and traditional Japan, the artist employs images from both cultures to create a complicated layering of pictorial information and social observation. The paintings in “All American” are poignant, satirical, playful, and full of outrage, exemplifying Shimomura’s career-long exploration of themes such as xenophobia and cross-cultural tensions.

For more than 50 years Roger Shimomura has been addressing in pictures the subjects that mainstream America is now just finding the language to discuss.

Two paintings in particular highlight how popular culture in the United States introduces and reinforces certain Asian stereotypes. Both JAPAN, 2012, and RAMBO II, 1978, illuminate the West’s troubling history of appropriation and commodification of Japanese heritage. The first depicts the iconic Hello Kitty character adapting various conventional Western and Asian identities: baseball players, farmers, geishas, chefs, bakers, and even the Statue of Liberty.

Always portrayed expressionless, voiceless (as the character has no mouth), and wearing a large bow, Hello Kitty is docile, passive, and diminutive.

Taking these two works as a point of departure, “All American” points out the absurdity of two enduring Japanese stereotypes: the bloodthirsty, dangerous warrior and the sex-less, non-threatening cartoon figure. The ludicrousness of these two extremes is highlighted by Shimomura’s use of the cynical, dispassionate style of pop art. Forgoing any expressive flourishes, Shimomura shines a cold light on offensive images, and asks us not to look away.

About the Artist

Roger Shimomura, AMERICAN VS. JAPS, 2010. Acrylic on canvas. 54 x 54 inches (137.2 x 137.2 cm).
Roger Shimomura, AMERICAN VS. JAPS, 2010. Acrylic on canvas. 54 x 54 inches (137.2 x 137.2 cm). Courtesy of the artist and Cristin Tierney Gallery.

Roger Shimomura’s (b. 1939, Seattle, WA) paintings, prints, and theater pieces address sociopolitical Japanese American issues of ethnicity. He spent more than two years of his early childhood in internment camps for Japanese Americans during WWII.

In 1962, Shimomura was a distinguished military graduate from the University of Washington, Seattle, and then served as a field artillery officer with the First Cavalry Division in Korea. He received his M.F.A. from Syracuse University, New York in 1969 and began teaching at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS that same year. H

e has had over 150 solo exhibitions of his paintings and prints and has presented his experimental theater pieces at such venues as the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; The Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC; and Franklin Furnace, New York.

Shimomura is the recipient of more than 30 grants, of which four are National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships in Painting and Performance Art. Shimomura has been a visiting artist and lectured on his work at more than 200 universities, art schools, and museums across the country.

In 2004 he retired from teaching and started the Shimomura Faculty Research Support Fund, an endowment to foster faculty research in the Department of Art.

He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of the Arts degree from The University of Kansas in 2021.

Shimomura is in the permanent collections of over 125 museums nationwide including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Los Angeles County Museum; Museum of American Art, Washington, DC; and the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.

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