Michiko Itatani Untitled painting from Waiting Game/Echo W-4 (2004)

University Club of Chicago

Itatani untitled painting from waiting game echo w4 2004

Michiko Itatani approaches her artistic practice like writing a piece of fictional literature; each artwork is a chapter to a larger, visual novel. Thus far, Itatani’s artistic novel awakens the imagination and offers dream-like portals to other worlds and sublime spaces. Michiko Itatani (b. 1948) was born and raised in Japan and has lived and worked in America since the 1970s. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts and Master of Fine Arts degrees from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, in 1974 and 1976.

One of Itatani’s first experiences in America was traveling by bus from California to New York, which sparked a career-long interest in the American landscape. From 1973-1982, she created a body of work with topographic qualities. These works show thickly painted overlapping gray, white, and black lines that create layered grid-like forms.

Her compositions tend to dualistically reference nature and architecture by containing geometric structures along with bending and twisting organic shapes. At this early point in her career, Itatani also created a sense of environment or installation with her paintings by painting extensions of her artworks that moved off the canvas and onto gallery walls.

Her work can have a corporeal quality, referencing fragmented bodies or microscopic layers of muscle or tissue. In addition, Itatani’s work draws from Surrealism, and the importance of the unconscious, but also draws from Cubism, and art as an autonomous object. Itatani often begins her artworks by seeking out inspiration through researching events, history, or personal experiences and consummately allows those disparate factions of research to fuse into one theme.

In 2002, she painted works that related to the September 11th, 2001, terrorist attacks and a larger concept of nationalism in America. Her works call on the viewers to question, wonder, and dream something outside of their everyday worlds and constructs.

Untitled painting from Waiting Game/Echo W-4 (2004) is a diptych painting of a wide, horizontally-oriented canvas positioned on the left and a slender, vertically-oriented canvas positioned on the right.

The canvases are the same height, but different widths, and are two factions of one pictorial space. Four smaller square canvases are mounted atop the two larger canvases and contain their own individual compositions. Many of the formal qualities of the two large canvases unite them as one pictorial composition. Both canvases have a dark black background that is textured with horizontally striped markings. This textured affect actives the surface of the canvas by allowing light to cascade across and between the stripes, similar to light falling on rippling water.

The horizontally textured backgrounds contrast the bending organic forms that emerge from each canvas. In the left canvas, two forms emerge from the lower left and upper right corners of the composition. The forms are layered compilations of white, light brown, and thin black lines, which are given volume by being entwined into organic shapes. In the right canvas of the diptych piece, a similar organically webbed form fills the right side and corners of the canvas.
The angled orientation and color of the form aligns it with the organic shapes emerging from its counterpoint, as if the two canvases are separated factions of the same pictorial space. Overall, the compositions dance between suggesting corporeal references, such as the magnified image of tissue or tendons, topographical implications, such as the terrain and plains of a landscape, and celestial references, such as space or other worlds.

Smaller canvases are attached across both large compositions. Their color palettes connect them to the larger diptych, but each small canvas is its own composition. Their size and compositional individuality evoke the feeling of seeing a detail of the vastly painted world, or being led into a new portal or corporeal layer. The diptych artwork interchanges between micro and macro, corporal and environmental, celestial and fantasy, allowing viewers to navigate their way through the mysterious idiosyncratic visual fiction.

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