The Ken (1976)
Oil on canvas
46.0 x 34.0 x 0.0
University Club of Chicago
Miyoko Ito was a member of the National Academy. Her work enjoys an international reputation.
Miyoko Ito was a
master of color, line, and form. She activated the canvas surface with a steady
vibration of shapes and forms rhythmically projecting outward towards the
viewer. Her luminous paintings give cause to stop, absorb, and reflect.
Miyoko Ito (1918-1983) was born in 1918 in Berkeley, California to Japanese parents, and spent a short period of her childhood living in Japan. She studied for her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the University of California, Berkeley where she was trained as a watercolorist associated with the “Bay Region” or “Berkeley School” of watercolor. Her scholarship was interrupted when she was imprisoned in an internment camp for Japanese Americans, but she completed her degree and afterword studied for a short time at Smith College, Massachusetts.
In 1944, she began graduate school at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she was influenced by Cubism. In the 1950s, she was introduced to Surrealism and painted forms invented from her imagination, divorced from an abstracted sense of reality.
In the 1960s, Ito drew influence from furniture and interior spaces and painted with a bright, expanded, color palette. Art historically, Ito’s work of the 1960s was associated with Chicago Imagism, and artists such as Roger Brown and Jim Nutt credit Ito with providing them with great inspiration and formal influence early in their development.
In the early 1970s, Ito’s work suggested themes of land and nature with a muted color palette, but by the end of the 70s, she returned to vibrant colors. Ito embraced asymmetry in her organic forms and overall composition, which has been connected to Japanese design and illustration. Her process entailed applying a coat of underpaint of either red, green, or blue to the canvas. Then, Ito allowed for gaps between the muted tones of her surface palette and the bright undercoat of paint, which caused the vibrating color effect.
The Ken (1976) is a large-scale oil on canvas painting created in the latter part of Ito’s career. The vertically oriented work depicts a layered terrain of geometric shapes in gradient tones. Color plays a key role in dividing the forms and creating illusions of space and recessions. Prominently in the center of the composition is a horizontally oriented, rectangular form made of warm gradating colors of light orange to rich, rust-colored orange. This form is comprised of curving and angular lined edges, giving it an idiosyncratic asymmetry. Color also conveys surface texture across the form, by the use of repeating horizontal stripes that both convey an illusion of texture and color gradation. Additionally, color is used to suggest depth and recession in the artwork, evident in the thin blue and gray form that cuts across the large orange form. The top of this long rod-like form is painted in a light gray tone and the lower portion of the form is painted in a darker blue-gray hue. The color relationship could imply a “top” and “side” to the long form, creating a sense of depth, but the shape, color, and smooth surface texture also makes this form appear flat on the canvas. In the upper center of the composition is a gradating muted green rectangle with architectural references. Thin bending lines emanate from the edge of the green form and evoke a light, airy quality, which contrasts its defined geometry. These lines also dismantle the form’s architectural quality by suggesting frayed edges or a flimsy deterioration of the form. These thin lines can be found across the composition and contrast the solid forms and pull any sense of compositional depth back to the flat surface of the canvas. The forms and shapes sit atop a background that begins at the top edge of the canvas in light, warm-gray tones and gradates downward to a darker gray-blue at the bottom of the canvas. This gradation happens in horizontal stripes, which mirrors the texture of the other forms and the overall balance between showing illusions of depth and also emphasizing the flat, open surface of the canvas. In The Ken, Ito’s use of color, line, and texture offers a composition rich with subtle changes that, once studied in detail, illuminates Ito’s radiant, painterly style.
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