New YorkFergus Mccaffrey
Leiko Ikemura: Anima Alma - Works 1981–2022
November 4, 2022 –January 14, 2023
Born in Japan, Leiko Ikemura left for Spain to study language and art before moving to Switzerland and eventually to Germany, where she currently works. An artist of subtle feminist assertion, Ikemura has chosen in most paintings to represent women and in some instances children. Ikemura is well known in Europe and has shown extensively there, but this is her first exhibition in America. Her painting style tends to be diffuse and sensuous, in a manner not so distant from the art of someone like Marlene Dumas. Her training directed her toward a compelling mixture of figuration bordering on abstraction, even when she is rendering people.
The paintings are more troubling than they may at first seem. They suggest several possible interpretations by virtue of their deliberate lack of clarity, which complicates rather than undermines the art. Girl in Blue (2022) shows a blonde child dressed in blue and set against a dark background. She wears a blue top and long blue socks and seems to be embracing a doll. Her face is difficult to read. If there is an eroticism here, it is caricaturing men’s desire. Another painting, also made in 2022, called Difficult Girl, is similar. The combination of the two paintings, set side by side on the first floor of the gallery, are both exercises in a mixture of very loose realism and a theme that may or may not be dark.
On the second floor we find Zarathustra I (2014), a strong landscape image of a large lake or river with cliffs on the left, with a small figure sitting on boulders overlooking the water. Beneath the figure, at the bottom of the composition, is an extended form painted a light tan. It might be a pale nude or an extension of the landscape. The form extends into an opening among the roots of a tree, possibly suggesting the act of intercourse. In Ikemura’s view, nature itself can be seen as possessing erotic properties. But the tree higher up maintains its tree-ness, extending diagonally over the water. Once again, we are faced with a complex, even baffling situation.
Despite the title recognizing Nietzsche’s writing, is this work a nod to traditional Asian landscape, or is it a contemporary investigation of a sensuality even the trees participate in? Ikemura’s painting is beautiful, partially because her message is veiled. On the second floor, the artist has a group of beautiful heads, all made of cast glass. Lamento (2020) is constructed with a pale green glass; it is a head a bit larger than hand size and rests on its side. The face’s beautiful features, delicately etched into the glass material, communicate a subtlety not regularly found in art today. It is not easy for any artist to embrace a culture outside the one she grew up in, yet Ikemura seems to have internalized a Western aesthetic. There are moments when she transcends her Western influences and returns to her Eastern origins. Doing so makes her art moving, culturally complex, and lyrical in memorable ways.