Grace Munakata's new paintings at b. sakata garo mix abstraction, pattern and imagery
in fascinating ways that challenge our notions of what painting can be. Throughout these new works,
threads of narrative emerge and recede, mixing past, present and future. In Munakata's hands, time
is flexible and imagery is caught in a flux of being and becoming.
Throughout the show, the figure of a young girl appears and reappears. In "Vishnu Pad,"
she stands on the banks of the Ganges River, where a distant figure bathes in the healing waters.
In "Loops," looking a bit older, on the verge of womanhood, she stands on what might be a beach,
gazing at a pair of looped forms on the sand. In these two works she is the central focus,
an avatar of Munakata's girlhood.
As the show progresses, the figure is subsumed and at times nearly overwhelmed by
landscapes that are essentially abstract. Still, in "Bittern," she asserts herself
in a wild scene of woods and water, surrounded by water birds, including herons
and a bittern, which elusively hovers over her head as a linear drawing in paint.
In this painting, fragments of images – branches, stones, vegetation, water – contend
with patterns based on an obi that belonged to Munakata's mother or grandmother. Here
the real, the fictive and the remembered blend.
In "Stones on the Water," a girl balances on a stone in a landscape of colorful shapes,
fabric patterns, and dark calligraphic lines that capture the gesture of tangled branches or
twisted twigs. The girl's precarious position on the rock in a creek is echoed by the tentative
balance between painting, drawing and pattern on the canvas. In "Wade," the girl is very small,
wading through a landscape of natural and brightly colored synthetic forms.
In "Potto," a shy bear takes the place of the girl, at the center of an antic
composition marked by bulbous cartoonlike shapes, linear markings and curving tree
limbs creating what Munakata describes as a "rainforest" around the elusive creature.
In "Riot of Lilies," a burst of floral imagery – calla lilies and leaves – swirl in a
seductive work that features ghostly female forms in the upper right of the canvas.
It's a sensual play of wit, as is "Maypole," in which leaves, buds and stones stack
up under tendril-like lines. Like many of Munakata's paintings, it combines flat
shapes with passages of drawing that create a multilayered effect.
The show also includes a number of small works in acrylic, collage and wax pastel
that are purely abstract. "Hanuman's Stones" is a vibrant play of color in which
Prussian blue sings near the center. "Cabin John Creek" is a more discrete work with
figurative implications. "Dennis the Menace Park" is light and lyrical with comic passages
that somehow do call up the cartoon character.
In a statement on her website, Munakata writes: "I grew up in a
Japanese American household where Western and Japanese objects and customs
formed a contrasting collage. A 19th century cast iron lantern shaped like
a pagoda sat on the hearth beneath golf trophies, Noh masks, and a painting
of the Golden Gate Bridge. My studio, strewn with colored papers, photographs
and drawings reminds me of my mother's sewing room with stacks of multicolored fabrics,
boxes of jewel-like buttons, and pinned pattern pieces laid out on the floor."
Munakata, who received her MFA from the UC Davis and has taught for many years at
California State University, East Bay, works in such a way that she mixes and overlays
sources from literature, visual art, nature, memories and present events into collagelike
images in which time is elastic, a panorama of superimposed patterns and images rendered
with a vigorous yet sensitive touch.
WHERE: b. sakata garo, 923 20th St.
WHEN: Noon to 6 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays,
INFORMATION: (916) 447-4276