Michiko Itatani

N.A.M.E. Gallery

I have heard a number of artists describe unexpected procedures with which their art was supposedly accomplished. Often they sounded more like fancy than reality, but MICHIKI ITATANI’s expressed technique of evolving her paintings during a sort of Oriental tea ceremony ritual rings true. Each layer of lines goes on in a set, solemn order, each line merely the visual remainder of her procedure, the ultimate result a celebration of what she was during that time, rather than any materially inspired object to be valued for itself.

Itatani was born and schooled in Japan, where among other things she taught Oriental brush painting and published poetry. Since coming to the United States for further training here, she has developed an organizing structure and linear quality which, even though nonobjective or abstract, has been consistently recognizable for its relationship to Oriental calligraphy and ancient landscape painting. Her way of defining vast, serene, ideal, “meaningful,” blank spaces which, rather than empty, are perhaps more significant than the imaged areas, particularly resembles those Oriental ink washes in which one has the feeling that “something intangible emerges between the image and the imageless.”

Several years ago, Itatani started her current, less painterly, very linear canvases, and the result was paradoxical. The potentially tranquil, individualistic surfaces appeared slick and methodically planned, perhaps not so ethereal as computerized, disciplined, and static, work to make other people wonder at its execution with only a hint of anything sublime. She soon developed these canvases in relation to various exhibition sites, observing the Oriental philosophy of balancing individual art and social responsibility by wrapping the evidences of her ritual around public corners and gallery beams. Still, the result was too decorative for my taste, that “social” aspect of making a painting to suit an around-the-corner position somehow absorbing the otherwise more compelling effects of her personal statements in blacks or hovering silvers.

Considering this development, Itatani’s current show seems the most successful effort so far. She has managed to bring back those meaningful blank spaces on parts of the gallery wall where there is no canvas or paint by taking the paintings not only across walls and around corners, but actually extending them onto the wall itself. And yet, what I suspect was a primary intent, to have the whole gallery itself resounding as a sort of meaningful space by making her imaged walls echo against the opposite long bare wall was a good idea but too much to expect. For one thing, the rubbery tile and gawky loft-style gallery beams, not counting the usual activity in the space, were otherworldly elements which intruded on this spatial dialogue. Then too, the second party to this two-person show had his extremely worldly, rectangular floor sculpture between Itatani’s bare and painted walls, thereby intercepting any “particles” of idealistic interaction.

The question thus remains how much can Itatani adapt her meticulously personal work to an exterior space. It seems an anticlimactic result to have the evidence of her idealistic ritual serve primarily to conduct a viewer around a space and out the door.

C. L. Morrison