Leiko Ikemura

Galerie Varisella

Leiko Ikemura, who was born in Japan and now resides in Cologne, is a wanderer between two worlds. Although aspects of her work, such as filling the entire pictorial surface, follow the European tradition, several elements, such as the shaping of the space, the flat application of pigments, and the treatment of lines, instantly point to a Japanese background. This bicultural fusion is evident in all her recent work. Inspired by an altar by Albrecht Altdorfer, the German master of the late Middle Ages, Ikemura has produced a number of paintings concerned with the Passion of Christ, translating them into universal situations that reach beyond Christianity. Thus the kneeling man with tied hands is not only the captured Christ but a universally comprehensible symbol of human degradation.

These paintings are not speculative or strategic in the manner of European Modernism. True to her Asian heritage, Ikemura does not regard the artistic process as an intellectual act, much less a reaction to art history. For her, it is a meditation that draws on her physical and mental energy. However, her work is realized not through some great effort of the will, but gingerly, in that she allows mental images to emerge and submerge on the pictorial surface, to intersect and mingle. In these paintings, the viewer is confronted with a wealth of personal images. To capture the image, Western art has often indulged in a discursive extravagance. By contrast, Zen Buddhism (which is closer to Ikemura’s approach) offers a far more cunning solution: rather than capturing the image, it lets the image run by.

These paintings derive from a mental framework in which human beings are woven into a dense, timeless network with nature and the animal kingdom — a network that the contemporary European ripped apart long ago. Betraying the Western influence, Ikemura’s paintings seem to be rags torn from a coherent whole and suddenly glowing from the depths of memory. Like distorted dreams still haunting us in the daytime, they seize our attention, mobilizing recollections as fragments of issues that have not yet been settled. Ikemura’s work does not partake of the European hostility to painting, nor the pressure of the eternally new. Her paintings are foes of oblivion.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel