The paintings of Ulala Imai are deceptively simple. Immediately likable and personable, they deal with very quotidian themes, ranging from still lives of food to portraits of figures from from popular culture (Star Wars, Peanuts, etc) to landscapes with stuffed animals in them. In keeping with her admiration of western painting, in particular that of Edouard Manet, her sensuous brush work comes off as a rapid, self-assured, and delightfully abbreviated, as if Imai has mastered depicting whatever she wishes to portray with perfect understatement and economy. Perhaps more important than this is her proclivity and ability to convey light, deftly suffusing everything in her canvases with an uncanny luminosity, which both emanates from and is projected upon what she paints. This tends to imbue her work with a bright and invigorating levity. Nevertheless, what she depicts is marked by a palpable melancholy. Like any good still life of food, it contains the pathos of the memento mori. This pathos is heightened by the fact that Umai was born with a severe hearing impairment, a fact which, once known, may help to account for the quasi-hermetic quality that subtly haunts her pictures (a hermeticism nested in the paradox of her painting’s immediacy). As such, the emotional range of her work, which runs from the joyous to the elegiac, is rich and broad. As much as it unpretentiously ennobles things like a baguette sandwich, a bowl of avocados, or, say, Chewbacca, it remains deeply and satisfyingly humble in its commitment to the human and everyday.

Date: September 18 — November 202021