One day last week, I sort of traveled the world. I dined on Mexican food (guacamole tacos at Fiesta Time), drank Italian wine (Chianti Classico), went to a French film (Avenue Montaigne at the Castle Theater), and saw a glorious Hawaiian sunset on my way to an art exhibit by two Japanese-American women.
The exhibit, shown at the Schaefer International Gallery, is a side-by-side showcase of contemporary work from Akiko Kotani and Kaori Ukaji. Both artists share a passion for graphite and textiles—and seemingly, solitude—but their perspectives are like night and day.
After receiving her Bachelor of Fine Arts at the University of Hawai‘i, Honolulu, in 1962, Kotani got her Masters at Tyler School of Art and later became Professor Emerita of Art for 21 years at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylania. Since then she’s exhibited mostly on the East Coast, with a few shows in Europe and Hawai‘i.
Her current exhibit at the Schaefer International Gallery, called “SOLO: Drawings with Silk & Graphite,” is the section you’re likely to go to first as you enter the gallery. Her exhibit takes up two of the largest rooms in the gallery, filling them with light and an immense expanse of open space.
Kotani’s work is displayed mainly by linen scrims and silk organza panels hanging from the ceilings and slightly in front of walls, casting shadows of thread lines depicting the abstractions of wind and clouds and the slopes of the Andes. There is also a series of abstract but emotive graphite drawings on paper of the Fields, Clouds and Rains at Annaghmakerig.
When I walked through these rooms (I was fortunate enough to visit on an unpopulated day) I felt like I was walking alone in an open field, stopping occasionally to look up at the clouds, feel the wind in my hair and the first droppings of rain on my face. Obviously, it was silent in the gallery, but the effect of Kotani’s work was quieting as well.
But perhaps it’s my darker nature that drew me more towards the Ukaji side of the gallery. There, Ukaji’s exhibit, “Essentially Empty,” explores the artist’s inner landscape with somewhat existential influences.
Ukaji was into graphic design in Japan before receiving her Fine Arts degree at the University of Hawai‘i—this time in Hilo. She’s shown mainly in New York and Hawai‘i. This particular exhibit seems to be the culmination of an internal transition for Ukaji, one in which she is eschewing her old “permanence as concept” way of creating works as “heavy, unchangeable, solid objects” for her current existence using “an empty mind and an open mind.”
A poem in the archway to her single-room gallery installation reads: “I don’t know who I am/I don’t know why I exist/I don’t know where I was going to/I am in the middle of chaos/that circles around continuously/trying not to be swallowed in it, but/also trying to find the way to leave…”
Many of these newer works use black and grey graphite on paper, with sparse use of light or open space. The most jarring piece, titled “Interstice,” extends like a long, narrow road-sized ribbon from the ceiling down the wall and across the floor, folding onto itself and completely separating the main room of Ukaji’s exhibit. When I first encountered it, and the room was filled with half a dozen or so people, I had an overwhelming desire to leap across it—I was disconcerted and overwhelmed by its illusion of confinement.
But once the room cleared of people, I was able to look again at the work with an open mind. Instead of feeling crowded by its border, I could follow the length of the paper with my eyes and breathe.
It suddenly seemed to flow like a river that was boundless. I felt liberated, as though I had taken another journey of my own. MTW