Shinichi Sawada, installation view of “Shinichi Sawada,” 2021. Photo: Courtesy Venus Over Manhattan, New York, and Jennifer Lauren Gallery, Manchester

Shinichi Sawada

New York

Venus Over Manhattan

Shinichi Sawada’s dynamic, wood-fired ceramic sculptures teem with energy. In this show—the first U.S. presentation of works by the self-taught, 38-year-old artist, who is based in Shiga, Japan—a few dozen figures arranged on two long tables form a modern-day bestiary of creatures drawn from Japanese mythology and reality. Some are snarling and dragon-like, others feature sweeping bird wings or wriggling lizard legs, but all of these imagined beings display Sawada’s inclination toward spiky, reptilian details and share a similar warm, brown finish. Stepping into the gallery, the viewer enters their kingdom.

Sawada, who has been diagnosed with autism, makes his sculptures at Shiga’s Nakayoshi Fukushikai, a social welfare facility that supports people with intellectual disabilities. For nearly two decades, he has divided his time there between his artwork and work at the in-house bakery. Over the years, he has fine-tuned his artistic practice and can now create one of his beasts in just four days. His work first gained critical acclaim within Japan, then garnered international attention when Massimiliano Gioni included it in “The Encyclopedic Palace,” the central exhibition at the 2013 Venice Biennale. Since then, Sawada has focused on the formal evolution of his creatures, moving from rough, sharp lines to softer forms that highlight elaborate facial features.

Here, his signature beasts are accompanied by a selection of mixed-media toy car sculptures made with everyday materials, including newspaper, wrapping paper, cardboard, and tape, then detailed with colored pencil and ink pens. Thrown into juxtaposition with the ceramic creatures, the car works—a departure for the artist—underscore the animalistic quality in modern vehicle design and further exemplify his penchant for imaginative detail. With their fusion of careful observation and inventive freedom, Sawada’s works, particularly the fantastical beings, retune their surroundings; their vivacity and life force practically make the space hum.