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Lost and Found​

by G. James Daichendt


A TALE OF TWO BROTHERS, JOE AND MACHA Suzuki found common ground through the arts. Moving to Los Angeles from Japan in the winter of '88 with their family, they only had eight cardboard boxes to their name. Despite early hardships, it was through the arts that their identity and friendship initially took hold and eventually propelled them into the Los Angeles art world.

Recently exhibiting for the first time together in a show entitled "Thunderstruck" at Sam Lee Gallery, their collective work references the struggles each has endured culturally, spiritually and emotionally during their odyssey. From gazing at colorful jars in their grandmother's home as children to attending graduate school together, their similar paths have resulted in work that is quite distinct from one another.

Searching for a better life in America, the shock of a new culture and language forced the brothers to depend upon music and the visual arts to communicate. Collaborators at an early age, they formed a band and used this as an early device for expression. In fact, they were much more fluent in the creation of music than English, so playing became a safe place of exploration.

These early struggles helped develop a strong bond—Joe even claims his younger brother Macha saved his life a few times—and this closeness is present when I ask the brothers to critique each other's work. Deflecting the question, they claim to have similar aesthetics. A similarity that only corresponds to their well-crafted objects. Much more differs aesthetically and conceptually; which may be why collaboration between them is rare.


Joe displays the typical characteristics of an older brother. The responsible one, on time, doing the right thing, he originally sought a more conservative career path in teaching. Passionate about the subject of art, Joe introduced his brother to the possibility of becoming an artist. Macha, who is more of a risk taker, took his brother's advice, studied art in college, found his calling, and encouraged his brother to do the same. They later attended Claremont Graduate School together and now both teach art at Azusa Pacific University.

Joe Suzuki takes his inspiration from the world of Kustom Kulture, which involves lowbrow art from the mid-century era—pin striping, greasers, and the slick paint jobs on hot rods. These techniques mixed with Japanese symbols result in work like a series of paintings featuring the Maneki Neko (or Lucky Cat), which is a common piece of kitsch that brings good luck or fortune to the owner. Joe reorients this character with powerful American pop culture references like rock 'n' roll or rap music; what was once an endearing symbol is now comedic, as it thrusts its guitar up in the air or signals a peace sign while decked out in Adidas gear. Meticulously painted on a raw canvas, these paintings formally reference the tensions of Joe's identity and sense of humor.


There is an incredible amount of enthusiasm and energy in Joe's paintings. The colors and subjects seem to burst off the wall. In contrast, Macha Suzuki's work is much more solemn and quiet. It is contemplative and requires a bit more reflection.

Macha cites a spiritual emphasis that points towards something much subtler than his older brother. Macha's stylized and exaggerated sculptural forms feel artificial because of the geometric shapes and plastic colors, yet at the same time somewhat familiar because of the common materials.

Macha's sculpture, Impossible Container (2012), is an enclosed polygon painted black with white trim. The ends of each side recall stained glass windows with brilliant shades of green and purple. A self-contained light shines through this prism of color while the entire piece is lifted off the ground by its support. Much like a canister too small for its contents, this container, although meticulously crafted, is not worthy of the spiritual concept it encases. Like the chest that held the Ten Commandments, this piece is a contemporary Arc of the Covenant, with only a light to hint at what's inside.

The recent installation of painting and sculptures by both brothers at Sam Lee Gallery demonstrates a similar starting point, different paths, and the cross section of life these artists have traveled. Reflecting on the show and their story sheds a light on how similar experiences can result in varied interpretations. Macha's wall mounted relief that ironically reads "Lost Again" appears to be one of the many battles that Joe and Macha have each endured along their journey as immigrants, brothers and artists, and the state of dislocation they will continue to overcome.

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