Etsuko Ichikawa: “Act of Drawing” at Winston Wachter Fine Art

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Etsuko IchikawaTrace 6814, 2014, Glass pyrograph on paper, 52″ x 38″
Photo: courtesy Winston Wächter Fine Art

Etsuko Ichikawa’s debut solo show at Winston W&aumlchter follows a string of professional successes since her arrival in the US in 1993 to study at Pilchuck Glass School. After working as part of Dale Chihuly’s hotshop crew for a while, she began her own career in 2003. Developing her pyrographs-dripping molten glass onto paper and removing it just in time to reveal the “scars”-she was invited to participate in important gallery and museum shows in Japan, China, the US, and the Netherlands. Simultaneously resembling spontaneous gestures and frozen biological moments, Ichikawa’s style was simplistically aligned by some art critics to Jackson Pollock. However, when one examines her links to Asian art, entire new dimensions of meaning emerge. Pollock may be among her influences, but it is important to remember Zen Buddhist calligraphy; linear ceramic surface decoration; and classical Chinese and Japanese spring and winter landscape scenes which share with the younger artist stark, white paper backgrounds (often symbols of snow).

Seen this way, playing down the artist’s focus on her “act of drawing” (the exhibit’s title), let us read the dynamic burned and burnished charcoal residues as icons of nature, such as the abstracted leeks and onion stalks in Trace 6814 (all works are 2014); an insect on the wing in Trace 6914; and the looping ripples of a rock tossed onto a pond in Trace 4314. This interpretation also plays down the performative dimension of Ichikawa’s work (although she has staged events in a nuclear cooling tower and elsewhere, for example). Ichikawa is like many artists with a craft background: because of the often huge technical challenges, most settle on one technical effect, perfect it, and develop it for at least a decade before moving onto another one. Ichikawa has established herself as the greatest glass pyrographer in the world. It will be fascinating to see what she explores next now that she has fulfilled this particular vision.