The exhibition was selected by the artists Juan Iribarren and Gallery represented artist Beverly Semmes, each of whom rented space from Kobayashi in his building, Moe’s Meat Market, where he lived, worked, and displayed his art. These artistic adjacencies and a sense of friendship for “Kobi” and his family bring a fresh perspective to the work of the artist, who passed away in 2015 at the age of 90.
In her 2020 New York Times review, Roberta Smith referred to Robert Kobayashi’s artwork as “at once armored and delicate, fierce and charming.” Kobayashi’s intricately developed surfaces, both in paint on canvas and metal on wood, suggest an innocence; their complex construction, however, belies a certain rebelliousness at the heart of his vision. In particular, his characteristic use of pressed ceiling tin—a stiff non-art material, quintessential to old New York buildings—was born of an irreverent and populist impulse to “up-cycle.” John Yau, in his 2020 Hyperallergic review, cautioned viewers “to not confuse Kobayashi’s art and life, which are deeply entwined.” However, for those who knew him, this would be difficult. Kobayashi had an obsessive connection to his chosen approach. He was an artist on a mission.
This presentation of Kobayashi’s classical art subjects — still lifes, landscapes, portraits and nudes, seen here in pairs and in groups — underscores the artist’s open spirit and range. Juan Iribarren and Beverly Semmes worked closely with the artist’s wife Kate Keller Kobayashi and their daughter Misa Kobayashi to choose work for this exhibition. Their intimate perspective highlights Kobayashi’s process as he moved between his dual techniques of painting and tin “clouage”.
Robert Kobayashi was born in 1925 in Honolulu, HI. After serving in the military during World War II, he was encouraged to pursue a career as an artist by his sister, attending both the Honolulu Academy of Art and the Brooklyn Museum School of Art. In 1988, Kobayashi had his first major solo exhibition, Tattooed Angel: Paintings and Sculpture by Robert Kobayashi, at the Nassau County Museum of Fine Art, Roslyn, NY curated by Phyllis Stigliano and Janice Parente. Other exhibitions included: Inventing Downtown: Artist-Run Galleries in New York City, 1952-1965, Grey Art Gallery, New York University, NYC; Robert Kobayashi: Moonflowers, New York University Broadway Windows, NYC; and most recently Cross Pollination: Flowers Across the Collection, Honolulu Museum of Art, Honolulu, HI. His work can be found in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, NYC; the Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY; Honolulu Museum of Art, Honolulu, HI; and the Nassau Museum of Art, Roslyn, NY, among others.