Seascapes by Hiroshi Sugimoto

“Seascapes” by Hiroshi Sugimoto may appear at first glance as monochromatic paint on canvas, but they are actually a photographic series by the famed Japanese artist.  The photographs are on gelatin silver prints.  They remind us of Mark Rothko’s meditative acrylic paintings, and in fact were presented in an exhibition at Pace, London side by side.

“These artworks reveal two different artistic approaches that arrive at similar conclusions. Rothko’s use of medium as pure abstraction communes with the work of Hiroshi Sugimoto who, decades later, used the medium itself to reconsider photography’s relationship to his viewers’ perception of the world. In addition to exploring the visual dialogue between Rothko’s dark paintings and Sugimoto’s photographs—both characterized by a binary format of black and grey rectangular elements—the pairings mine the philosophical affinities between the two artists, each offering a meditation on universal and cosmological concerns.” – Rothko/Sugimoto ‘Dark Paintings and Seascapes’ Oct 4 – Nov 17, 2012

Sugimoto’s Seascapes were begun in 1980 and are photographs of water bodies from the English Channel to the Caribbean Sea to the Baltic Sea, and many more.  They are all composed to frame the sky and sea, one light, the other dark, divided into equal halves by the horizon line.  Like Rothko’s color fields, they serve to connect us with the transcendental, the beyond of our existence but through a deeply inward process of looking.  However, unlike Rothko who manipulates a blank canvas, Sugimoto captures what already exists – the natural and mundane.  Air and water are so commonplace, we barely notice their existence, he remarks, yet they not only sustain life but are the primordial source.

There are hundreds of photos in the series which are all formatted the same way.  This repetition serves to make them indistinguishable as individual seashores, and the black and white further refocuses us on the subject matter – air and water, allowing the viewer to delve into their relationship of juxtaposition, and confluence.  A technically accomplished photographer, Sugimoto has achieved this haunting, muted quality in Seascapes through a large old format camera, and long exposure times.  His training in the field of architecture contributes to his deep understanding of space and structure.

Sugimoto wishes to reignite our sense of wonder at the creation of life, that even if there were a planet elsewhere with the properties of earth, we should marvel and give gratitude to where we stand.  His relationship to the ocean is one of security, a feeling of inward peace.  He shares that with us reminding us of a singular ancestry that lies at the roots of our collective consciousness.

In the face of modernism, and ruthless exploitation of natural resources, Sugimoto forewarns a future where we will exhaust the planet, and life itself.  He hopes Seascapes would remind us not only of nature’s beauty and power but how we are an intrinsic part of it.  The arresting photographs freeze us in a moment of time and space that is infinitely boundless, and puts us, the viewers through a spiritual excavation.