by Mark Van Proyen
The durable adage of good things coming in small packages might seem like a holiday season cliché, but it rings true for Mary Ijichi’s exhibition of ten new works. Eight of these are only slightly larger than twelve inches square, with two others measuring twice that size. All are dated 2020 or 2021 and are collectively titled Assemblages with individual numbers differentiating them within the series. These works need to be seen to be believed. Meaning, unmediated by a screen. That is because they are all masterpieces of intimate subtlety that sneak up on you and capture second and third glances, revealing surprise, complexity and delight in measures rarely seen in small works.
Titling these works Assemblages might seem misleading insofar as their material identity is concerned, especially if the term makes us think of the work of artists such as Kurt Schwitters, Robert Rauschenberg or pre-1964 Bruce Connor. But it is not wrong. Like the productions of those other artists, Ijichi’s works also reveal themselves to the viewer’s eye in layers of disparate material, treatment and activity. Only in the case of her work, the resulting configurations are keynoted by an evanescent luminosity rather than abrupt juxtapositions. Frosted mylar is the primary material used in these works, useful because it can partially obscure and refract colors through and behind its gauzy translucence. Added to both sides of the mylar are careful applications of diluted acrylic and colored pencil frottage, with some judicious additions of colored plastic beads strategically sandwiched between the mylar and the mounting board.
The artist organizes these materials and procedures into warp/woof grid configurations that read, at first glance, like colorful fabric swatches. But this cursory association is deceptive because the apparent stability of the grid structures starts to dissolve and mutate under the pressure of extended scrutiny, bringing complex interplays and undercurrents of fluidity (and radiant color) into view. For example, we can look at Assemblage #12 (2021) and see a subtle shift from orange-yellow to tinted pink running from the bottom to top of the work’s surface, the color shift manifested in pulsating sequences of small cells containing gradated, translucent pigment.
It isn’t easy to select any specific work in this exhibition as more exemplary than the others. In terms of color and structure, they are all unique, invented from the bottom rather than being a rote variation of an overarching pictorial premise.
The obvious point of art historical comparison for the series would be Agnes Martin’s work; however, Ijichi’s treatment of the evanescent grid is less austere and more playfully seductive than Martin’s, implying a closer kinship with the jazzy late works of Piet Mondrian. The works of Korean Dansaekhwa artists such as Lee Ufan and Park Seo Bo also offer relevant comparisons in that they allow their materials speak for themselves in the language of understatement, thereby offering the rewards provided by slow, attentive observation. As with the efforts the above-mentioned artists, Ijichi’s work provides a refuge from and resistance to the agitated velocity of everyday life.
It is worth noting that, even though this is Ijichi’s first solo exhibition in San Francisco in 16 years — four others during that timeframe were mounted in New York and Japan — she also worked for many years as a dental hygienist. No doubt, that background gives her some familiarity with x-rays and other forms of imaging, and that knowledge echoes throughout this series. One could also see these works as specimen slides containing diagnostic information about cellular activity or even as old-style animation cells of the sort seen in experimental cinema. More to the point is their embodiment of the earliest and most traditional definition of the word aesthetics from Plato, who nominalized the verb form of intuition into aisthesis, i.e. the vague/atmospheric perception of something emerging from nothingness, in contrast to a clear vision grasped within a schema of understanding.
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Mary Ijichi: “Assemblages” @ Brian Gross Fine Art through January 8, 2022.
About the author:
Mark Van Proyen’s visual work and written commentaries emphasize the tragic consequences of blind faith in economies of narcissistic reward. Since 2003, he has been a corresponding editor for Art in America. His recent publications include: Facing Innocence: The Art of Gottfried Helnwein (2011) and Cirian Logic and the Painting of Preconstruction (2010). To learn more about Mark Van Proyen, read Alex Mak’s interview on Broke-Ass Stuart’s website.