Seattle ceramic sculptor Akio Takamori, who died in January, worked until the last day of his life. His last exhibition, “Apology/Remorse,” is now up at James Harris Gallery.
Noted Seattle ceramic sculptor Akio Takamori, who died of pancreatic cancer in January at age 66, worked until the last day of his life. And the eight sculptures and seven drawings in “Apology/Remorse,” at James Harris Gallery, make it clear that his artistic vitality was undiminished to the end.
All the pieces strike notes of contrition in varying ways.
The largest of the sculptures, “Willy B,” portrays German Chancellor Willy Brandt in a pivotal moment in Germany’s history. In 1970, while placing a wreath on a monument commemorating the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising against the Nazis, Brandt knelt and fell silent. Asked later about this moment, he explained, “Under the weight of recent history, I did what people do when words fail them. Thus did I acknowledge the millions murdered.”
Akio Takamori: ‘Apology/Remorse’ Efrain Almeida: ‘Trance’
11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays through April 1, James Harris Gallery, 604 Second Ave., Seattle (206-903-6220 or jamesharrisgallery.com).
Takamori, rather than picturing Brandt in the dark overcoat he wore that day, depicts him in what seems to be a Japanese kimono. That links the sober, meditative “Willy B” to another sculpture in the exhibit, “Apology,” showing a Japanese man in a business suit on his knees with his eyes half-closed and his head bowed. The public confessions of Japanese executives who have let their companies and employees down turn up in Takamori’s large ink-on-paper drawings, too.
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In one untitled drawing from 2015, a business executive, turning away from the microphones pointed at him, faces the viewer directly with a dark, haunted look in his eyes. In another untitled drawing, a standing businessman bows so sharply that the top of his head falls outside the frame of the picture, accentuating the effect of someone looking down into his own abyss.
An untitled “headshot” portrait of a Japanese businessman shows Takamori at his intuitive best. It’s a perfect blend of mannerism and naturalism, as its bold circles and ellipses of ink combine seamlessly with large, looser brush strokes that outline the contours of his head.
The most unusual pieces in “Apology/Remorse” are six sculptures that place the heads of elderly Asian men on the armless Greco-Roman fertility-goddess bodies. The expression on these male faces is sometimes sour or disdainful (two pieces both titled “Remorse”), pugnacious (“White Man”), haughty (“Black Man”) or calmly stonewalling (“Yellow Man”).
The pairing of masculine heads with nude female physiques suggests untenable vulnerabilities in these startling hybrid figures. If masculine and feminine can’t find a better way of getting along than this, Takamori implies, then something is seriously out of whack. Several of the sculptures are rougher in surface and more chance-ridden in glaze application than Takamori’s usual tidy style, especially in the two “Remorse” figures, where “accidental” drips creep down the lengths of the figures.
“Apology/Remorse” is kept good company by “Trance,” a show of sculptures and paintings by Brazilian artist Efrain Almeida. Birds, especially hummingbirds, dominate Almeida’s watercolor diptychs and his acrylic-painted bronzes. And while they’re naturalistically depicted, they seem to carry a metaphorical charge as well.
For one thing, they’re small presences in a large space. In the sculptures, as the birds perch on branches or huddle in nests (bird and setting, alike, cast in bronze), they seem to emphasize the void surrounding them. The same is true of Almeida’s watercolors, where he places his bright-feathered creatures against vaporous-nebulous backdrops as gray as mist.
In this limbo, the artist seems to say, it takes bold nerve to hold your own.