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Noriaki: on and off the wall

Mindful of how the opening of the exhibition of works by Noriaki in the Piotrowicz Gallery played out in 2019, with massive crowds effectively blocking the view of the works of art, I put off my visit to The Safe Behind the Painting exhibition in the Old Brewery until a few days after its opening. I didn't just want to attend the event, I wanted to see the display!

One of Noriaki's works - an abstract painting in grey-blue-white-black colours. - grafika artykułu
photo: Adam Jastrzębowski

Noriaki's works are known far and wide, also beyond Poznań. After all, he is the artist behind the Watcher, the distinctive, periscope-style character popping up all over the city. Wall paintings of this likeable, black-and-white figure can be spotted in the Jeżyce District (ul. Wawrzyniaka), at Dworcowy Bridge, on ul. Mostowa, along the PST tram route and on traffic light posts at an intersection near the Old Brewery.

I admit to being a little concerned on hearing that Noriaki's works would be on view in the Old Brewery. After all, the venue is nothing to sneeze at: it is Poznań's prime exhibition space and one that has seen a whole array of prominent artists, both Polish and international. My apprehension was not about the Courtyard Gallery being out of Noriaki's league, but rather that the opportunity would kill his street-art flair, that mischief factor that sets his works apart from others. Fortunately for Noriaki and all art and culture buffs, none of my fears were realised.

Noriaki did not slip into academic haughtiness or put on airs as a "big-shot artist" whose works inspire lengthy discourses and take an art-history dissertation or a doctoral thesis to do justice to. The Safe Behind the Painting, which occupies three floors in the Courtyard Gallery, proves that Noriaki's work should be embraced holistically and that what you see on the canvases is an extension of the work he does on the walls of Poznań (and beyond). Or is it the other way around?

The exhibition is divided into three sections, each placed on a separate gallery floor. Moving from the lowest to the highest level, they are Rebellion, Movement and City. Rebellion is meant to reflect the artist's youthfulness, the start of his free artistic explorations. Movement is about fluid and shifting images. City, in turn, seems to be the most mature of all the parts of the exhibition. Clearly inspired by urban landscapes, it features a wide range of colours and reveals the painter's finesse.

Noriaki appears to be telling visitors that by touring the three rooms in the prescribed order, they will see how he grew as an artist from a maker of small-format monochrome sketches and practice paintings (first floor), to one focused on playful experiments with form and changeability (level two), all the way to an accomplished author of complete paintings (top floor). The one little detail in this maturing timeline that is off are the dates.

Don't expect that as you move up through the successive floors, you will see ever more recent paintings, as a normal timeline of artistic evolution would make you expect. At each level, pieces dating from 2021 mix with somewhat older creations. There is also a childish image from 1990 that heralds the artist's creative future. Rather than presenting an artistic path in a neatly arranged temporal order, Noriaki chose to highlight specific components of his work.

Even the two small Noriaki installations: a paint mixing palette and the second-floor tower that becomes its extension, may be taken to stand for constant growth and movement in his paintings (and in his art in general). Noriaki keeps his artistic options open. He has no intention to quit painting on walls, limit himself to black-and-white works or become an exclusively large-format painter of figurative images. The multiplicity of formats and painting styles he uses (and not only to paint, as the top floor even displays tear-outs), with bold juxtapositions of colours and his wide-ranging themes, all suggest many more surprises up his sleeve.

After all, his one hundred plus works on view in the Courtyard Gallery show he can be inspired by anything from an urban landscape to a city reminiscence, a randomly-spotted geometric shape, a human gathering (great paintings depicting a significantly anonymous crowd), and lone individuals.

The Safe Behind a Painting is an exhibition strictly limited to paintings. However, the street-art spirit is unmistakably in the air in the vibrating brush strokes, in the deliberate incompleteness of some of the works and, finally, in the dynamic, movement and simplicity inherently associated with the semi-legal genre of wall art.

What does the safe in the exhibition's name stand for? It can be a treasure chest of the knowledge, talent and inspirations in Noriaki's head. The safe extends beyond the picture frame, the canvas and the paint that covers it. It opens and closes without fully revealing the precious ideas it contains.

Do not miss this exhibition. There is still time to see how various aspects of Noriaki's work interact with one another. And to discover again that this artist is much more than the different iterations of the Watcher that stare at us from the walls of Poznań.

Adam Jastrzębowski

translation: Krzysztof Kotkowski

  • "The Safe Behind a Painting" by Noriaki
  • Courtyard Gallery, Old Brewery (Stary Browar)
  • open until 31 January 2022

© Wydawnictwo Miejskie Posnania 2021