For more than a decade now, Masami Teraoka's art has presented an episodic tale of two cultures. Its style is that of 19th-Century Japanese ukiyo-e prints; if one doesn't pay too much attention, it's possible to conclude that this exhibition is an attempt to revive some neglected historical figure. But only if one isn't looking carefully, because Teraoka has consistently placed contemporary Occidental props among his antique Oriental scenes.
In the past, an infusion of Western phenomena into idyllic boating scenes, from McDonald's containers to Baskin-Robbins ice-cream containers, made for pointed and genuinely funny satire. That infusion is considerably more subtle here--visually present only in the snorkeling equipment lying alongside tattooed women on Hawaiian beaches.
None of the women pictured derive from real subjects; instead, they are his interpretations of figures from Japanese masters: Hokusai, Kunisada and Kuniyoshi. But once they enter Teraoka's watercolors and drawings, they become protagonists in his ongoing drama.
Most of the women in his current work are engaged in erotic wrestling matches with large octopuses. The presentation is more amusing than titillating, presenting sex as the stuff of comic myth. And the words within the paintings, scripted in the Japanese equivalent of anachronistic English, simply add to the laughs--offering such dialogue as "I've been looking forward to this meal."
All of this content wouldn't work so well if Teraoka weren't such a fine practitioner of the ukiyo-e style. "Wave Series/Turtle Island" pictures only a large horizontal span of softly rounded waves and foam, rising up in front of an island devoid of vegetation. A Teraoka oceanscape without the overlay of social commentary remains captivating. (Space Gallery, 6015 Santa Monica Blvd., to Feb. 16.)