In Digital Superstitions, his newest series, Seattle artist Jonathan Wakuda Fischer responds to the unexplainable with engineering. On one wall of ArtXchange Gallery, there are a handful of simple paintings. Titled Fushigi, meaning mysterious or secret, they are pictures of glowing eyes peering out from areas of darkness, leaking through tightly patterned surfaces of repeated Japanese characters—the same characters he has tattooed on his body, signifying his family crest. The creatures are in the walls. He says whether or not you find these particular paintings scary will depend on how you feel about the unknown. He seems to feel very mixed.
And the paintings feel most well-haunted in the areas where his style is loosening up a little, allowing smoke and fog and wide Fushigi eyes that seem to take you in, rather than the ones that look overtly menacing.
Unsettled dualisms are the cracked ground on which Wakuda Fischer builds paintings. In a grid of geisha that are all the same but all different, horror and wonder conjoin. The color of the woman's dress changes as from one pretty Warhol flower to the next, but parts of her body alter in unseemly ways, like on paper dolls—a pretty leg in this frame of the grid transformed into a hoof in the next one, or a dainty chin into a demonically grinning mouth.
The grid has no sense of linear time—time is stopped except in the moments of her changing—but across a series of larger panels that can be read left to right on another wall, time is passing as a warrior is losing the lover who embraces him. Her face fades as if it has been imprinted a number of times and the ink has run low. Simultaneously, his bloody arrow wounds get brighter and more numerous, his losses compounding.
Several paintings appear in pairs. One is a woman seen twice. On the left, she faces away, showing us her back. On the right, she faces forward, except it isn't a face, it's a pixelated blur. Wakuda Fischer explains that she is based in an old Japanese folktale about a man who finds a hunched, crying woman and, in an attempt to soothe her, discovers she has no face.
Wakuda Fischer's dualism extends to his hybrid life. His father has German heritage and his mother is from Kyoto (he grew up in Wisconsin); as an artist, he consciously pulls his sides into his center, where they spar. Japanese ghosts and German machinery make formidable opponents. If you see some of Hayao Miyazaki's otherworldliness in Wakuda Fischer's shape-shifting yokai, you may also notice in his scenery the thick, dark patterns of postindustrial German expressionist prints.
And there's a machine quality to Wakuda Fischer's repetitive process—always has been. He began attracting notice a few years back with pop-style icons: Geisha with Boombox paintings after the early hiphop and graffiti photographs of Martha Cooper, or the TV towers of Capitol Hill seen rising from a roiling sea of clouds and the twisting bodies of dragons. Digital Superstitions is his second show at ArtXchange. The first, in 2010, reenvisioned the appearance of Commodore Matthew Perry's "black ships" in Edo Bay in 1853 as a conglomeration of superflat anime, sci-fi battleships, and ancient ghosts.
The newest paintings feel even more tightly engineered while also getting surface textures involved for the first time, collage papers affixed in a manner like street wheat-pasting. You wouldn't say Wakuda Fischer paints so much as assembles paintings—drawing, spray-painting, stenciling, collaging, and airbrushing his way toward gleaming towers of symbols. Some collapse. But his best allusive towers, sparkling with brilliant colors, are artifacts of parallel realities where what's unsettled is perfectly at home.