Isamu Noguchi, Peking Drawing (man reclining) (1930), ink on paper.
  • Courtesy the Noguchi Museum
  • Isamu Noguchi, Peking Drawing (man reclining) (1930), ink on paper.

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You can see Isamu Noguchi's Peking Drawings at the Frye Art Museum.

When you think of Noguchi in Seattle, you imagine Black Sun, the 1969 sculpture that sits in front of the Seattle Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park (it's owned by the city).

You think of the Japanese American modernist whose greatest influences came from Japan, where he traveled repeatedly, and Paris, where he served for two years as assistant in Constantin Brancusi's legendary studio.

Myth has it that Chris Cornell wrote the song Black Hole Sun after this sculpture. Soundgarden, after all, is named after another art installation, Doug Holliss 1983 Sound Garden on the NOAA campus at Magnuson Park.
  • Courtesy City of Seattle
  • Myth has it that Chris Cornell wrote the song Black Hole Sun after this sculpture. Soundgarden, after all, is named after another art installation, Doug Hollis's 1983 Sound Garden on the NOAA campus at Magnuson Park.

But Noguchi took a single, entirely overlooked trip to China—afterward, he was never able to return—and was influenced by the master calligrapher Qi Baishi. Noguchi bought Qi Baishi's works, and Qi Baishi carved a tiny stamp of Noguchi's name, an honor for the 26-year-old artist considering Qi Baishi was 68 and renowned.

Most surprising about his trip to China is that during the six months he spent there, Noguchi, the man who spoke in sculpture, made only a single 3D piece, a small sculpture of a Chinese girl that is actually bizarre. Her head looks like a baby's, but she's got fully adult breasts. She's made of dental plaster. It was all Noguchi could get for material. Bereft of stone or wood or plaster, he hired nude models and went to town instead on these large ink paintings.

The Peking ink paintings are fascinating for their doubleness. First, he took a broad brush and swept thick black lines to capture the general outline of the subjects in front of him—their blueprint, their architectural aura. In the painting above, of the reclining man twisted into a pretzel, Noguchi recorded a man who is also a mountain, with peaks for a chest.

When Noguchi finished that first layer of thick, dark lines, he applied his slender, Matissean lines. Each of these paintings is two paintings, one on top of the other. Or maybe three, your eye separating the two, then synthesizing them back into one.

Noguchi also made what museums probably wouldn't come right out and call erotica, but it feels like it to me. An example, NSFW, is on the jump.

Here she is.
  • Here she is.

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