Like the Brothers Grimm fairy tales, Hiro Sakaguchi's paintings in the exhibit "Idle Daydream" invoke a complex, knotty fear — one that cleverly layers horror in between preciousness, childlike innocence and pastel colors. "People read my work as scary," says Sakaguchi. "Scary like a tiny stuffed bear holding a knife."
Take Bear Fishing (pictured), in which the Japanese-born local artist paints a dozen airplanes paddling eagerly upstream like fish, while being ripped in half by a Godzilla-size bear. Meanwhile, a rainbow glows in the right-hand corner, it's a beautiful day out, and a few tourists look onto the scene, seemingly unfazed. Does the scary-pretty piece comment on overpopulation? Globalism gone wild? Nature eventually swallowing man whole? Or is it simply about the fear of planes?
Kinda? "That idea came from a nature show, where salmon, after they grow up, returned to where they were born to lay eggs," says Sakaguchi, who moved to Philly 18 years ago. "And they go through all that trouble to get home only to be eaten by bears. I started associating the salmon with myself, when I take a plane to go back to my home, Japan."
Planes pop up frequently in Sakaguchi's works, which, in addition to his trips to Japan, may have something to do with the fact that he often watches the horizon speckle with them from his home near the Philadelphia International Airport. In School of Pinwheel Airplanes, there's such a critical mass of planes that the scene appears warlike. But, as usual, the chaos is inconsistent: The sky is bubbly blue, and the townhouses below the planes are unscathed.
Tying all this cutesiness and terror together is Sakaguchi's greatest talent — his disarming painting style, which is modest, youthful and akin to comic-book illustrations. "When you're a child, you're drawing your imagination onto paper, so you try to be as clear in your drawing as possible," he says. "My work is ethereal, so I try to do the same thing and paint as simply as I can."
Ends Oct. 27, Seraphin Gallery, 1108 Pine St., 215-923-7000, seraphin.squarespace.com.