Patrick Nagatani: Outer and Inner: Contemplations on the Physical and the Spiritual

By Jean Dykstra, February 13, 2014

 Patrick Nagatani, Yellow / 13 from The Race, 2013. © Patrick Nagatani, courtesy Andrew Smith Gallery

Patrick Nagatani is known for the biting wit expressed in his distinctive and theatrical visual commentaries. He fabricates fact-based, fictionalized narratives into seamless color images such as Nuclear Enchantment (1991), in which he addressed New Mexico’s nuclear industry, and Japanese American Concentration Camps (1995), in which he explored his family’s experiences during World War II in America. In his latest work, Nagatani has taken on the roles of producer, director, photographer, and editor of a photo-novel in collaboration with pilot/videographer Scott Rankin and artist/designer Randi Ganulin.

Taking up the entire space at the Andrew Smith Gallery Annex through April 30, the show samples three bodies of Nagatani’s work: Novellas (1992-2004), The Buddhist Tape-estries (2000-2010), and the still-in-production photo-novel The Race. The inspiration for this highly reflective exhibition is health related: “In dealing with metastatic cancer stage 4 for five months,” Nagatani stated in the gallery’s press release, “I have been dealing with the realization of impermanence and have been introspective of the spiritual and the physical aspect of my life as it is.”

 Patrick Nagatani, 436-N Untitled (Novellas), 1997. © Patrick Nagatani, courtesy Andrew Smith Gallery

Nagatani studied with Robert Heinecken at UCLA and was influenced by Heinecken’s photo constructs. The Race is itself an imaginary construct that presents 15 sequential color prints depicting a single, scale-model Spitfire floatplane flying in open skies amid various cloud formations. Each image will illustrate a chapter in the novel dedicated to 15 fictional female pilots, all of whom are participating in a trans-Pacific race from Tokyo to San Francisco. Each plane is identified by color and number as marked on the fuselage. Printed below each photo is a synoptic bio of the pilot. For example, “Copper/4 is piloted by Raya Sol del Mundo, b. 1952, Southwest U.S. of Native American and Mexican descent learned to fly while attending UCLA. Personal statement: I saw my body free of any physical bonds. I could soar in the sky and touch the clouds of my childhood dreams. I wanted to break free of gravity and metaphorically break free of ties to location. I wanted to soar above my ‘mundo.’” In this expansive show, Nagatani’s new work soars above his own fictional world.