SEIJI KUNISHIMA


[1] [2]

[3] [4]

(1) "Suspended Pool 94-2", black granite, 17 x 64 x 35 1/2", 1994.
(2) "Untitled 93-13", black granite/white bronze, 6 x 25 1/4 x 24", 1993.
(3) "Untitled 94-12", black granite/bronze, 6 3/4 x 24 x 19 3/4", 1994.
(4) "Suspended Pool 93-11", black granite/bronze, 25 1/2 x 39 3/4 x 26 3/4", 1993.

by Ray Zone

(Merging One Gallery, Santa Monica) The spare and elegant sculpture and drawings of Seiji Kunishima expand the unique yet traditional milieu of this excellent artist. Kunishima has exhibited widely internationally since 1963, and it's easy to understand his widespread appeal in that his work, though abstract, is still constructed with both implicit and explicit figurative elements from the world of nature that resonates in the mind of the onlooker.

The Japanese culture has for centuries fostered a vision of the world in its art whereby the emptiness of form, or space adjacent to form, is important. This surrounding vessel of emptiness is coequal to, and sometimes more important than, the form itself. What is this emptiness? It is the whiteness of the canvas or paper where no image is rendered. It is the air, the very volume of an empty cup. It is all the space where no tree grows, or no rock rests in a garden. These blanknesses, this whiteness, this air critically defines the solidity of the form and shapes it by its very absence. All of the traditional Japanese art forms incorporate this emptiness and honor it with a formidably simple and, sometimes, austere repertoire of expressions.

Kunishima's work is innovative and traditional at once. It points out the value of the Eastern traditions in understanding the entire body of modern, abstract art. Centuries before reductivist art and minimalism, Japanese sculptors, potters and painters were saying the same thing: that what is at the periphery of our field of view, and just beyond it, is as important as what is central to it. This aesthetic is obviously at play in the wonderfully spare music of Toru Takemitsu and Somei Satoh, whose compositions are a sonic counterpart to the sculptures of Kunishima. Whole passages are filled with greater or lesser degrees of silence. And again, the work is daringly inventive yet built on an aesthetic that is milennial in age.

Kunishima's sense of nature is acute. Consider the small sculpture Untitled 94-12. Atop two polished black granite plates, a half-circle on top of a full circle, rests what appears to be a large stick. The juxtaposition of the craggy natural form of the stick, which is actually cast bronze, and the elegantly milled black granite is striking. The black granite is smooth and regular, almost like flying saucers, and the bronze "stick" sitting crossways atop it is jarringly irregular. Form is disconcertingly juxtaposed with emptiness in a dramatic fashion. It is a radical marriage of dissimilarities.

Another, and similar, piece is Untitled 93-13. Here again are two circular forms made of highly polished black granite. Resting on top of them are what appear to be stones. Only the stones are made of cast bronze. The machine-like reflective surface of the black granite again is in striking contrast to the natural surface and humble shape of the apparent stones on that glistening bed.

A significantly larger work is Suspended Pool 94-2. Three circular forms of flat black granite, with highly polished surfaces, are stacked on top of each other. The title is apt and makes you actually see a series of pools ascending up the side of a mountain. It is the sides of these flat circles that are unworked to remind us of their artisanal nature. This work is formidably simple and elegant to a fault. It evokes the real world of nature and yet emphatically asserts its own, ideal character.

This exhibit is an opportunity to view the work of a radical traditionalist. Emptiness has rarely had such a celebration in modern art.