- Tawara Yusaku, "Hōraizan" [Mt. Penglai], from Dabuinchi o omoute [Thinking of DaVinci]
The Chinese character for the number one — ichi — is typically represented as a solid horizontal line. Tawara Ysaku painted ichi not once but hundreds of times late in his life. There’s nothing solid (or typical) about Yusaku’s brushwork in the selected ink on paper paintings on display in this exhibition however, and his accumulations of countless brushstrokes might make you think of far-away galaxies. They are highly gestural paintings, highly influenced by his thinking about Buddhist ideas. Accordingly, his conception of ichi was not just a numerical one. “It is the universe itself; It is unifying aspect of universal flux,” he once wrote.
While Yusaku eschewed representation, other works in this show might nevertheless remind you of traditional Japanese landscape painting or calligraphy. The paintings that I found most engaging are those in which, with his Eastern modes of composition, he confronts the West. You see this in “Great Plains,” which approximates an American landscape, and in his series of paintings, Thinking of da Vinci, where he attempted to tap into the Italian master’s “wave energy.”
This IMA-curated exhibition of the late Japanese artist’s work — Yusaku died in 2004 — situates his art in the context of both traditional Asian and contemporary painting. If you just so happen to be walking from the IMA’s Asian Wing to the abstract contemporary work on the fourth floor, let this exhibit be your bridge.