Ai Yamaguchi "shinchishirin" @ Joshua Liner Gallery, NYCJuxtapoz // Tuesday, 13 May 2014
Joshua Liner Gallery is pleased to present an exhibition of new and recent work from Japanese artist Ai Yamaguchi. shinchishirin will be Yamaguchi’s first exhibition with the gallery and her first New York solo show since 2002. The show runs through June 7, 2014.
Feminine beauty is the main theme in all of Yamaguchi’s work. As with many other cultures, hair is an important symbol of beauty in Japan. The artist often depicts girls’ hair as part of the scenery—these rivers and mountains of long black hair mimic brush strokes and traditional Japanese calligraphy.
One aspect of traditional Japanese art that Yamaguchi incorporates into her work is Japanese poetry, or Waka. The artist often takes apart poems and plays with the words to create new verses—evidenced in exhibition title, shinchishirin. Taken from several different poems from the early Heian Period anthology, the Kokin Wakashū (in English, ‘Collection of Japanese Poems of Ancient and Modern Times’): shin means “heart,” chi means “earth,” shi means “words,” and rin means “forest.” As a poem, shinchishirin expresses how the seeds of your heart get planted into the ground and grow into a forest of poetry.
The shapes of the canvases from Yamaguchi’s white gesso paintings are all different characters from Japanese words she doesn’t care for, neither their sound or significance. These words are broken down hiragana characters—the simplest alphabet in Japanese. Considered a feminine way of writing, during the Heian period hiragana was used exclusively by the ladies of the royal court. In hiragana—unlike with typed fonts—when written vertically with a brush, the shape of each letter becomes more organic, similar to western cursive. By physically beautifying the words through her canvases, the artist hopes to gain a different perspective and sensitivity towards these words—words sown like the seeds of Yamaguchi’s forest. She uses shinchishirin painting as a cleansing process.
Having come from a background of industrial arts where she concentrated in textiles and fabrics, Yamaguchi experiments with new techniques and media. For example, she developed a unique blanket-canvas style where she covers wood panels in a blanket, or futon, and covers them with cotton fabric. This technique is often said to have a ceramic quality due to her application of gesso to fabric. It adds a two dimensional anime-like quality to her characters, making the colors all the more vibrant, while adding three-dimensionality to the canvas itself.
For this exhibition Yamaguchi also experiments with non-gesso blanket-canvases, layered in multiple planes—similar to the Japanese wooden doll art of kimekomi ningyo. Creating a subdued and understated drama—compared with some of her bolder pieces—closer inspection is necessary to see the details that would otherwise be missed, luring the viewer into the narrative of the canvas.
Yamaguchi’s art is deeply rooted in traditional Japanese themes and values, yet it is undeniably modern and pop. Though the artist does not draw men, this does not mean they do not exist in the world of the girls she portrays. At a time in Japan that was completely dominated by men, Yamaguchi depicts the untold lives of women as beautiful and alluring, yet innocent and unbroken.