The Belly People, the Heap of Kittens, and the Death Shrouds
Five women lie in a row like hills. They're on their sides, on a benchlike white pedestal. The exhibition is called Ground. The unseen side of the sleeping women that's touching the ground of the pedestal must be iron-flat in contrast to the wafting, rising, curling, flowing, billowing rest. Akio Takamori's ceramic people are always very, very round, like their heads are bellies and each foot and hand is a belly and their butts are bellies, with belly hairdos. Matisse's name always comes up with Takamori's. The belly people are colorful, with dry surfaces that would be rough to the touch but visually betray the wet swooshes of paintbrushes. Actually, they're paintings almost as much as sculptures. Sculptures are usually about cutting away or building up or suturing things together, but ceramics and painting are both about caressing. The bellies beg for caressing. They make only being able to look a punishment. If you could just spoon them, hold them. Or reverse the embrace: climb inside them, curl up.
What do a row of sleeping women and a heap of kittens have in common? Edward Wicklander made the heap of kittens. He carved them out of English walnut wood. Their painted eyes are half open, and they've slung and wrapped their bodies over and around each other to the point where it's no longer clear whose part is whose. In an art gallery, these folksy, kitsch-ish kittens are funny, but their curved and interlocking forms are also a way to demonstrate compositional mastery without bluster—humbly, coolly. They are the height of charisma. They have nothing to do with painting or touching and everything to do with looking.
The kittens are at Greg Kucera Gallery. Takamori's sleeping women are at James Harris Gallery two blocks away. Both artists are Seattle-based. Wicklander was born in Puyallup, land on the edge of a million wood-carvers, in 1952. Takamori was born in 1950 in Japan, the son of a gynecologist. I wonder what Takamori would make of a comment Wicklander made at his gallery talk earlier this month. "Back in Chicago, where I went to school, they really get objects," Wicklander said. "When I show there, they appreciate it." I also wonder what Lorraine and Howard Barlow would make of that.
The Barlows—based in rural Thorp, Washington, where he teaches sculpture and she got her graduate degree at Central Washington University—are showing their own objects in spitting distance from the kittens and the women. The Barlows are a married couple in their 30s with small children, all their parents still alive and healthy. They're "in the prime of life," as Howard put it. To mark it, they've made objects for their deaths.
The art would be unbearably romantic if it weren't also morbid. He made her a wall "quilt" of emptied red bullet casings he filled with handwritten memories about her and bits of her wedding dress. Down the middle of the grid, there's a spine of casings that are marked with white x's and o's. These contain 21 wishes that she's written, to be shot out during a 21-gun salute Howard will arrange for her memorial.
Lying on the floor is an effigy of Howard. Based on a plaster casting, it's his measurements exactly, stiff arms crossed over the chest in burial position. The cast is unseen, encased in a shroud Lorraine knitted in baby- alpaca wool. A line, or spine, runs down its front: "xoxoxoxo" from head to toe. On the back, Howard says, there is an opening where his body will be inserted after his death, then the shroud will be tied closed. Ideally, Lorraine's hands would be the ones tying the shroud and Howard's hands would be the ones loading the gun, but in real life, somebody will have to go first. The other body will be left behind with just the bodies of objects.
Takamori is at James Harris Gallery, Wicklander is at Greg Kucera Gallery, and the Barlows are at Punch Gallery, all through March 30.