Artist Tim Okamura crafts oil portrait paintings that focus on identity, metaphor, and cultural iconography wrapped up in storytelling. A majority of his works feature women—particularly women of color—that depict their strength and willingness to stand up for themselves in the face of oppression. Combining realism with rawness, his figures are meticulously painted while their environments are loosely handled and include the likes of dripping paint and graffiti text.
“I am looking for a balance of detail, precision, and more organic, sometimes abstract passages,” Okamura tells My Modern Met. “My work allows for the incorporation of typography collage, spray paint, and mixed media—whatever the concept may call for. I feel it’s important to have room for exploration and experimentation.” By marrying elements of street art with the “academic ideals of historical masters of painting,” he imbues the field of portraiture with a contemporary feel.
Okamura’s latest series is titled GIRL-ILLA WARFAIR that’s based on his invented “samurai gang”: an underground collective of women warriors fighting for social justices, equality, and marginalized groups.
“The story is still developing,” Okamura explains, but he shares the inspiration for one of his paintings. “Storm Warrior depicts a squire helping a knight don her armor in preparation for battle. Guided by the Code of the Samurai, this renowned champion is responding to a call to arms—she is prepared to take up the fight against social injustice and to defend the defenseless from the tyranny of evil plaguing our society,” he says.
“Black clouds roll in as the sky darkens, signaling impending conflict—she will harness the transformative power of the storm, and wield the ability to manifest lasting change and elevated consciousness,” he describes. “She is an Onna-bugeisha, and a key member of the leadership of a mysterious underground alliance—a noble sisterhood known as The Warriors of Light.”
A selection of Okamura’s work is currently on display in a group exhibition called Still I Rise at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. It is on view through May 25, 2020.