Arts / Galleries

Mr. Tomonoshi Brings His Wonderful World to Houston — Trees, Chairs, Brookokyo and The Girl With Flowers as Hair

It Is Easy to Lose Yourself in This Compelling Reeves Art + Design Gallery Showcase

BY Evan Pardue // 01.11.24
photography Jessica Dao

Fifteen minutes normally sounds like an eternity to spend in a single small room of a gallery. Your phone’s buzzing. You’re trying to drown out distant chatting from another room. Maybe you’re planning where you’ll get coffee afterwards. Mr. Tomonoshi’s new exhibition called KOKORO! at Houston’s Reeves Art + Design gallery is worth putting your phone in do-not-disturb mode to absorb his thoughtful, exciting multi-media world building.

Let the spoken word audio adventure and subsequent objects and installations transport you through one of the most ambitious gallery shows of the moment.

The artist who is making his United States — make that his global — gallery debut at Reeves Art + Design is mysterious. And he wants to keep it that way.

Mr. Tomonoshi’s amorphic talents/vocations include being a successful children’s book author, an animation producer, a voice-over actor, a furniture designer, a landscape architect, a martial artist, an audio engineer and the list of hyphenates expands with his abundant curiosity. What’s clear through the list of mediums is the artist’s innate passion for storytelling and world building. At Reeves Art + Design, art lovers are treated to the world of Brookokyo (a dystopian mashup of Brooklyn and Tokyo) and the story of Kokoro — the girl with flowers as hair.

Enter on the side of Reeves Art + Design from Fairview, grab a charred tree trunk stool — crafted by the artist utilizing the Japanese tradition of yakisugi — and spend 15 minutes listening to the spoken word adventure of Brookokyo. Through six short chapters, Mr. Tomonoshi’s talents as a storyteller and voice-over actor shine as we discover the city of Brookokyo plagued with a 10-year drought.

After years of drought-induced fires, two of the characters, Happy Samurai and his neighbor, discover the miracle of the titular Kokoro, the girl with flowers as hair, birthed from seeds planted on the roof of a teahouse.

Mr. Tomonoshi's "El Oso Negro: The Bear Who Wrestled Fire," 2023, at Reeves Art + Design (Photo by Jessica Dao)
Mr. Tomonoshi’s El Oso Negro: The Bear Who Wrestled Fire, 2023, at Reeves Art + Design (Photo by Jessica Dao)

Mr. Tomonoshi acts as Virgil and Dante in the exhibition: the narrator, guide and one of the central characters in the story. Inspired by griots he encountered through his travels in Senegal, the telling of the story is central to experiencing this show. While you have the option to walk through the exhibition while the narrative plays, set your phone aside and sit down for the 15 minute story first.

Time flies and the payoff is remarkable. There’s a near Wizard of Oz effect when leaving the audio room and crossing over to the other rooms in the gallery.

Like Mr. Tomonoshi’s curiosity, the show expands into new mediums and unheard chapters of the tale. The rooms feature craft-paper drawings of Kokoro, a giant bear formed from reclaimed wood surrounded by a bed of live flowers, a full-scale teahouse that nearly fills the width of the back gallery, a massive tree trunk with plants growing from it and ikebana arrangements among other objects.

While the rabbit-hole quality of these massive works is seductive, pay particular attention to the illustrations on white notebook squares in the back room. Mr. Tomonoshi’s fierce yet delicate line work and characterizations are captivating.

Mr. Tomonoshi with his 15 x 10 foot "Yakisugi Teahouse," 2023, at Reeves Art + Design (Photo by Jessica Dao)
Mr. Tomonoshi with his 15 x 10 foot Yakisugi Teahouse, 2023, at Reeves Art + Design (Photo by Jessica Dao)

Of his 15 foot x 10 foot Yakisugi Teahouse — the magnum opus of the showMr. Tomonoshi tells PaperCity in an email: “Exploring sustainability and reusability of found wood is the core principle of my architecture practice, I began an investigation to build a teahouse using only found wood. This process is very childlike for me, finding a bucket of blocks and investigating what can be created. No new wood was used to build this teahouse. Only found wood.

“The foundation features 8-inch stumps of Shou Sugi Ban-treated river birch, contributing to both structural integrity and visual cohesion. The deliberate perforation of the structure with holes of varying sizes serves to filter natural light into the interior, creating an intricate interplay of light and shadow.

“In navigating the constraints of utilizing found wood, the design process becomes a meticulous orchestration of mathematical precision and puzzling arrangements. Sketching in 3D I was able to design something honest, and aesthetically pleasing. It took us four days to build this teahouse inside of the gallery. This is the way. And I forgot — we found the windows too.”

Mr. Tomonoshi's solo, "KOKORO!," bears important messages. The artist tells PaperCity, "Exploring sustainability and reusability of found wood as the core principle of my architecture practice."(Photo by Jessica Dao)
Mr. Tomonoshi’s solo, “KOKORO!,” bears important messages. The artist tells PaperCity, “Exploring sustainability and reusability of found wood is the core principle of my architecture practice.” (Photo by Jessica Dao)

In the middle of the show is a group of discrete yakisugi stools and chairs displayed on the floor and mounted on the wall, reminiscent of Reeves’s own history with furniture. The gallery began a half century ago as a haven for mid-century collectors.

Here Mr. Tomonoshi’s collective’s philosophy of sophisticated play is clearest. The chairs are vinyl storage. They’re masks. They’re reclaimed wood transformed into objets d’art. They’re functional. They feel risky to sit on. They’re shadow puppets. The chairs aren’t props from the world of Brookokyo as they are the world itself.

They are the narrative. They are the tale of a community unearthing flowers amid drought, crafting treasures from a burnt world’s leftovers, and birthing mother nature’s daughter Kokoro, whose flower hair healed a weary warrior’s heart.

“KOKORO! By Mr. Tomonoshi” is showing at Reeves Art + Design, 2415 Taft, through this Monday, January 15. An artist reception will be held this Friday, January 12 from 6 pm to 9 pm. Get more info at @reevesartdesignhouston, @mr.tomonoshi.

Author’s note: Evan Pardue is an artist based in Houston whose medium is painting. A BFA grad of Kansas City Art Institute, Pardue is a member of Visual Arts Alliance. His canvases have been featured in Lawndale Art Center’s The Big Show.

Additional reporting from Catherine D. Anspon 

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