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Two Seattle sculptors who blend the playful, the serious and the elusive in their work have new shows at Pioneer Square neighborhood galleries. Here’s a look:

Their backs are to you as you enter the room. They’re in their own little world, and they don’t much care if you’re looking at them or not. Circle around to view them from the front, and they still have an uncanny ability to avert your gaze.

“They” are a lineup of “sleeping women” that are part of “Ground,” Seattle ceramic sculptor Akio Takamori’s third solo show at James Harris Gallery.

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The five stoneware pieces are rounded, rough-surfaced and candy-colored. Forming a sort of napping ridge of flesh, they’re an ambiguous mix of languid and withdrawn.

Takamori uses under­glazes to create fields of color in his figures’ dresses and hair. With minimalist strokes as delicate as any ink drawing’s, he also depicts the women’s curled toes, dainty ears and folds in dress fabric, as well as subtle variations of facial expression from sleeper to sleeper.

“Sleeping Woman in Red Dress” rests her blue-haired head on folded arms, her half-closed eyes glancing at something in the air just above her. She may not actually be sleeping, but she clearly doesn’t want her drowsy reverie to be disturbed. “Sleeping Woman in Black Dress,” on the other hand, is deep in slumber — her eyes closed, her arms tucked up against her chest. As for “Sleeping Woman in Purple Dress,” she appears not just dozy, but a little depressed.

Takamori’s life-size “Squatting Girl in Striped Dress,” by contrast, is forthright and Buddha-like. She crouches alone in the gallery’s backroom, her hands folded in an abstracted sphere of flesh at belly-
button level, the seams and stripes of her dress forming a strong framework around her chubby figure.

Her striped undies, matching her dress, are visible from the front — but she doesn’t care. She has
something on her mind that’s erasing all self-
consciousness about her appearance.

Each figure in “Ground” seems to say, “You can come in just so far — and no
further.” Their secrets are both half-revealed and half-kept.

Steel balloons, wooden kittens, a skull-filled hourglass …

Edward Wicklander’s self-deprecatingly titled show at Greg Kucera Gallery, “More Objects,” delights in unlikely contradictions between content and materials. His cluster of black balloons couldn’t look more airy or weightless. But they’d fall with a clanging crash if they weren’t affixed to the wall.

Similarly, the wrinkled “cloth” sack holding the goods in “Heavy Load” is convincing from a distance. But get up close, and it reveals its true nature: exquisitely carved wood.

Wicklander is a gifted surrealist drawing from a variety of inspirations. The prehistoric Willendorf Venus, for instance, gives rise to “Willendorf Column,” in which the fertility figure’s generous proportions are parlayed into a lively 90-inch-high wooden monument. A stack of five black rubber inner tubes is transformed by Wicklander into a welded-steel balancing act, “Study for Tube Totem.”

The show’s most engaging piece may be its interactive memento mori, “Wasting Time.” It’s a water-filled hourglass mounted on a steel frame that you can turn to watch the dice-sized porcelain skulls inside it slip through its narrow opening.

And then there are those kittens — carved, painted walnut clusters of them, so adorable that you can’t help wondering if Wicklander is getting soft on you.

Go upstairs and you’ll find a piece from one of his earlier shows that makes plain how well he knows where all that adorableness leads. It’s “Alpha Cat,” a carved-wood jack-in-the-box with four stacked feline heads popping out of it, each with its own self-assertive attitude.

Don’t get too close — it might bite.

Michael Upchurch:

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