Ben Sakoguchi’s acerbic style melds elements of figuration, history painting and Pop art in works that critique American cultural values and ahistorical Californian idealism. By turns sentimental and brutal, his work is an archive of micro-histories and broader historical narratives, distinguished by his experimentation with multi-part paintings and modular canvases. The artist’s biography as a Japanese-American and internment refugee imbues his storybook scenes of daily life and coastal living with a campy cynicism that dispels the myth of American exceptionalism.
After completing his graduate studies at UCLA in 1964, Sakoguchi became closely associated with the creative milieu surrounding Cecil Hedrick and Jerry Jerome’s Ceeje Gallery. In contrast to the cool conceptualism consolidating in Southern California at Ferus Gallery, Cejee supported a vibrant program of eccentric, mythic and personally intimate figuration. Though Sakoguchi’s delirious portrayals of consumerist abundance align his work with traditions of Pop art, they also resonate with older influences such as Hieronymus Bosch’s cacophonic fantasies of the macabre. Sakaguchi captures a uniquely American pandemonium across his oeuvre, bringing together commercialized images, beloved pop icons and historical figures with playful intrigue and black humor.
Ben Sakoguchi (b. 1938, San Bernardino, California) lives and works in Pasadena, California. After retreating from the commercial art world in the 1970s, he continued to exhibit in university art galleries, museums and other non-profit spaces in Southern California, the Midwest and New York. He has exhibited solo projects at Bel Ami, Los Angeles (2021); Ortuzar Projects, New York (2020); Galerie Georges-Philippe & Nathalie Vallois, Paris (2020); POTTS, Alhambra, California (2018); the Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles (2016); the Alternative Museum, New York (1992); and the San Francisco Fine Arts Museum (1980). His work has been featured in institutional surveys and group exhibitions, including L.A. RAW: Abject Expressionism in Los Angeles, 1945–1980, Pasadena Museum of California Art (2012); Sub-Pop, Cardwell Jimmerson Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2011); Made in California: Art, Image, and Identity, 1900-2000, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2000); and The Decade Show: Frameworks of Identity in the 1980s, the New Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Hispanic Art and the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (1990). Sakoguchi was twice awarded fellowships by the National Endowment for the Arts. The Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Brooklyn Museum, New York; the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; the Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts; and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C., are among the public collections holding work by Ben Sakoguchi.