A Finer Cut 

"Wood Paper" exhibit from Japan fills beautiful space

Japanese sculptor Kazuo Kadonaga has quietly taken over Stewart Gallery One, a wide, light, airy front room with a concrete floor painted gray. Kadonaga, who also works in glass, bamboo and paper, provides the first component of Stewart's "Wood Paper" show.

The material descriptors are, like the works themselves, misleadingly simple. Kadonaga's logs of varying lengths are split roughly or finely sliced. The gleaming wood is then placed back together to take its original shapes, knots and all. The transformation is striking, begging the question, "How do the pieces cohere?" (They're held together by dowels, says Stephanie Wilde, artistic director of the gallery.)

Kadonaga, who grew up on a Japanese cedar farm, is "concerned with the processes and systems involved in the work," according to his Web site. The actual cutting, he says, is carried out by others.

Here, the artist's hand is irrelevant, along with notions of originality and technical secrets. Wood No. 8 CF, a small cedar log spotlighted on the wall, floats like the ghostly heart of a young tree. Horizontal saw cuts, each a finger's-width apart, contrast with irregular vertical splits that have occurred naturally–and according to Wilde, are still developing. According to Wilde, the pieces have changed in the short time since they arrived, in slow yet constant motion depending on ambient conditions. The book-like cuts of cypress, Wood No. 5 DJ and Wood No. 5 DI, were flat when they arrived from Japan, but when unbound in the heat, the top sheets curled and lifted. Recently, cooler weather has flattened the sheets again.

Kadonaga visited Boise for the May 16 opening. During his time here, he left his mark on Boise permanently—on the floor of the gallery. According to Wilde, when he saw the floor of the new gallery space, he demanded that it be painted gray. In fact, his instincts were right on target; Wilde admits the distressed concrete floor would have detracted from the work. When she told him he was welcome to do it himself, Kadonaga got to work, finishing just in time for the opening party.

While his works attest to the subtle beauty of nature, they more forcefully speak to the super-human wonder of industrial methods acting in nature. Unlike traditional Japanese handicraft, these pieces are proud of their machine-made-ness. Yet Kadonaga's work fits into Japanese tradition, which has avoided the "art/craft" dichotomy of Western aesthetics. By reassembling nature so as to surpass it, the artist brings to viewers' attention the otherworldly beauty that surrounds us. Human intervention becomes a collaboration with nature.

The work of Yutaka Yoshinaga, Kadonaga's compatriot and the artist behind the "Paper" half of the exhibit, is tucked away in Gallery Two, the cooler, more intimate back half of Stewart. Yoshinaga's work has been seen in solo exhibitions across Japan, as well as in Chicago, San Francisco, Milan and Mexico City. His interest in "the life of the materials" evidences underlying concerns that link the two artists.

Yoshinaga's richly colored, abstract pastels on paper document what he calls "an accumulation of touch." Large sheets of sturdy handmade paper are folded and unfolded to leave geometric panels, which are then filled in with color. The textures of the materials and colors are subtle but striking. Yoshinaga's work evokes the processes of both ancient contemplative practice and modern scientific methods, mapping the motion of the artist's hand as it travels over paper also made by hand. Yet the titles of the works themselves—works that evoke landscapes as often as they echo modernist abstraction—catalog the spirit of experimentation: U-122-94, 91-A, From Line D-12-02.

Fundamentally, it's about the lush pigments of chalk pastels, gorgeous textures and edges of the varieties of paper used (some traditional mulberry or rice, others containing cotton and thicker fibers). As in Kadonaga's work, process is the number-one player here. You can see just how the artist rubbed the paper to the point of imbuing the texture of the paper with the texture of the dry pigment. The surfaces are transformed, boundaries blurred.

From Color No. 8, is a large sheet of paper lined with rectangular folds and hung vertically. Only the center rectangle has been rubbed smooth with rich burgundy pigment; otherwise the paper swirls with the texture of itself. Specks of pigment and a stray fingerprint meander over the rough, cream-colored surfaces of the rectangles. It's the fingerprint that hooks me—the calligraphy of the artistic process, a single human mark that places the piece in time and space. "Someone made that," I think.

Through June 30. Stewart Gallery, 1110 W. Jefferson St., 208-433-0593, stewartgallery.com

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