In the lobby of the 35-story Total Plaza office building in downtown Houston lies an oasis of tranquility, as two Japanese artists share an exhibition of consummate subtlety and artistry entitled Tradition and Translation: Extension of Nature. At the risk of being politically incorrect with emphasis on gender, one artist is female, Mari Omori, and her work embodies the fragile sensibility and sensitivity of the female principle. One artist is male, Masaru Takiguchi, and his sculptures embody the strength and virility of the male principle. The analogy falls apart quickly enough, however, as Omori's fragile works are also powerful, and Takiguchi's tough-minded sculptures, especially the ones in wood, show a sensitivity in design that is remarkable.
Omori has chosen here to use tea bags, or tea bag packaging, as her central medium, though they are used so well that the casual viewer would never know it. Her large "Sun Dial" is a circular, quiet extravaganza that is richly textured, and has a spiraling effect, with the outer edges seemingly serrated. It is slightly three-dimensional, and, though inanimate, has a pulsing life that seems to fill the gallery. To my amazement, it is composed entirely of what must be hundreds if not thousands of the envelopes that tea bags come in, a surprising fact that can be verified, if one stands to one side, by visually observing a few envelopes where the print on the backs becomes visible.
That Omori can be tough-minded as well is demonstrated by her "vessel iii". A beehive is enclosed in a dark brown wrap, open but tied together, with the ties echoing what might be antennae, though they are not. It is ominous and threatening. A companion piece, "'vessel ii" is the other side of the coin, pale, an almost white interior filled with empty tea bags arrayed to create a sense of fluffiness. The result is two ingenious works of art, and a fascinating contrast as a bonus.
Omori also has a windsock, "Wind Catcher" and a graceful "Kimono", both tea colored and made of large tea bags sewn together. Again, the unusual material is perceptible only upon close examination. Both suggest a world of serenity, where beauty is appreciated. Omori was born in and grew up in Japan, but has been a Texas resident since 1992.
Takiguchi works in wood, stone and metal, in creating abstract sculptures that provide no narrative but rely instead on graceful curves and the intriguing richness of the materials to delight the viewer. Takiguchi has a large number of impressive works on display, so if you are able to visit the lobby gallery, leave ample time to savor his art. This story continues on the next page.
Be sure to spend time with "Memory of Butterfly", in richly-veined walnut, and marvel at how hardwood can be transformed into soft, sprightly curves. He is a master of detailing, and the invisible wood joinings are so incredibly well-done that they seem impossible - what the eye tells us is one piece of wood may require a number of superbly-managed linkages.
"Awakening of the Spring" is carved from Texas pecan, with three large segments mounted one upon the other, and an amusing small projection at the top resembling a sprout - or perhaps echoing a mouth thirsty for spring water. "Tusk", made from camphorwood, conveys fighting energy. "Ocean of the Books" is made from cypress, a honey-colored wood. "Mirage" is walnut, with a mahogany base.
"Wind and Rain" is made from pine, but dark here, the color of pine cones, as a very large number of individual carved pieces of wood are arrayed to create a sense of a spiral staircase leading upward. Upward to where, I wondered, and the thought came: "Perhaps, to heaven". The work is powerful, evocative, and haunting.
In these wood sculptures, the texture of the wood is often smooth and polished on the exterior, and deliberately textured on the interior. The choice of wood is a large part of Takiguchi 's design.
The same is true for his work in stone. Takiguchi uses Tennessee marble for "The Wave" and "Spring Haze", and Brazilian black granite for his "Night Ocean", and here also often pairs a glossy exterior with a more textured interior. The artwork is presented by Arts Brookfield, in cooperation with the Hooks-Epstein Galleries, Inc. and curated by Sally Reynolds for Arts Brookfield/Houston. It is so successful that it is a bit like visiting a spa - one exits calmer, and refreshed.
Tradition and Translation: Extension of Nature continues through July 30, at Total Plaza, Lobby Level, 1201 Louisiana Street, Mondays through Fridays, 8 a. m. to 6 p. m., (713) 336-2280, http://artsbrookfield.com/.