Haunted by The Present

When Masami Teraoka comes to Los Angeles, he worries--about AIDS, earthquakes, toxic gas leaks, the smog that reddens his eyes, the traffic and bullets that could end his life as he rolls along the Santa Monica Freeway.

In a show of his latest watercolors at the Space Gallery on Santa Monica Boulevard, the Japanese-born artist expresses these “double and triple fears” he faces in daily post-industrial life, particularly in Los Angeles.

Using the style of Edo period block prints, plus cartoon-style text, Teraoka creates traditional Kabuki-like characters to satirize contemporary social values.

The major theme is AIDS, a subject Teraoka first addressed two years ago in a large four-panel screen. The disease had been an abstract concern of his until one evening he met a friend and her infant daughter for dinner in New York. The baby had been infected with the AIDS virus during a blood transfusion.


“That really shook me up,” says Teraoka, who produced his powerful AIDS screen of a lesion-scarred mother and child about to be engulfed by flames.

Teraoka’s current show, however, is more of a sardonic comment on the need for safe sex. But his intent is serious. He admits he was afraid his friend’s infected infant would spit in his coffee, and he has recently painted a large portrait of U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, whose efforts at AIDS education have made him the closest thing the painter has to a contemporary hero.

Besides the scourge of AIDS, the 52-year-old artist, who moved here from Japan when he was 25, is horrified at the late 20th-Century American environment.

“Technology is supposed to improve things. But I don’t know if this is any better than medieval times,” he says.


After two decades working in his Silver Lake studio, Teraoka recently moved to a village on the island of Oahu in Hawaii.

He was forced out of L.A. by the smog, he says, and he decided that “before I die I should breathe clean air.”