James Harris Gallery recently presented an exceptional, vibrant exhibition, all new work by Akio Takamori, “The Beginning of Everything” (Seattle, May 14 – June 27, 2015). The exhibition was extremely well received and sold out. It was installed as a theatrical narrative, each room staged to explore the artist’s nostalgic revisiting of youth and growth. The gallery explains the context:
In the first room, two squatting boy figures gaze pensively at the rest of the show. The stoic gazes of these youthful characters penetrate beyond the room’s temporality and the painterly glazed surface of the clay gives them a fantastical context. Entering through this threshold, the scene is set to proceed with an active mind and a playful imagination. Takamori has often used the child figure in his work, which relates to the Japanese term Karako, the depiction of children as a metaphor for youth. For Takamori, youth is not a signifier of inexperience but rather as a refreshing optimism, where ideas and energies have boundless potential.
Also in this first room is a series of mountainscapes displayed on a twenty-foot long pedestal. With these works, the artist specifically recalls figures from his last show at the gallery entitled Ground where the backs of sleeping female figures suggested a mountainous landscape. He often plays with cross over or the gap between imagination and memory, a leitmotif throughout his career. These underglazed stoneware scenes cloaked in clouds also recall varied historical traditions by drawing associations to the Greek Isles of classical traditions as well as Japanese Ukiyo-e prints, which mean “pictures of the floating world.”
In the next room, the iconography of the baby is explored through wall mounted ceramic sculptures and a suite of prints. Buddhism, recognizes that the very young have close proximity to the other world, a moment that will only be experienced again at the end of life when this vulnerable and reliant state returns, “In witnessing the birth of his children and watching his parent’s age, Takamori recognizes the enigmatic, other-worldly experience during these phases of life.”
Finally, the artist examines familial bonds via a series of freestanding children holding their siblings on their back, located in the final gallery. In these works, were are told:
“The artist demonstrates his painterly approach to the three-dimensional with his glazes by layering patterns upon patterns in bold colors that imbue his work with a baroque sensibility. The intense hues evoke a feeling of joy and youthful inventiveness. These painted figures have only an implied connection to the young, perhaps as their siblings or as symbolically related, representing the next stage of development and again referencing notions around aging and the cycle of life”.
However, this description misses a darker side which often hidden in Takamori’s art. Takamori keeps this to himself usually, it is his private experience and he does not put his audience through the tougher elements of an artwork’s gestation. We get the charm, the color, the humor and (although not in this work) the eroticism.
As he explained during a visit to his studio in Seattle just before the exhibition opened, these freestanding children are inspired by the ghostly, agonizing photograph that is shown at the top of this post and here in its full format. It is from the series Photographing the Bomb by Japanese photographer, Yosuke Yamahata. On August 9, 1945 an A-Bomb hit Nagasaki and he was dispatched to document the destruction. In 1952 he wrote of the experience.
A warm wind began to blow. Here and there in the distance, I saw small fires, like elf-fires, smoldering: Nagasaki had already been completely destroyed. Higashi, Yamada, and I progressed quickly along the prefectural road that ran down the middle of the plain. Stepping carefully in spite of our hurry, we nearly tripped on the human and animal corpses lying in our path.
The photograph here is of a child carrying his brother as they searched for the parents amongst the rubble of what once been a city and villages. This is one of those images I wish I could un-see, scrub it from the mind. It is now scorched into my memory, as it was with Takamori, and hopefully it now resides your brain as well because it is something that should never be forgotten, a ghostly shadow to his ceramic sculpture.
Why, one may ask, does the artist not exploit this drama in a more angst-ridden format? I have not asked this question but I do have a clue. He is one of the most optimistic people I have ever known. Takamori has a way of taking the darkest moment and projecting it forward into a more positive context, finding humor, irony and redemption. My guess is that he feels it is just too easy just to reproduce horror, too cheap a shot, and that his duty as an artist, without being Pollyanna, is to be transformative but positive. We could do with more of this sensibility in art.
Garth Clark is the Chief Editor of CFile.
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