Archive for July, 2010

Drawn II

July 29, 2010

Three images by Takashi Iwasaki

Sharpenkunshimetsukegram, drawing on paper, 10 x 7 inches Kamidaredentou,16 x 16 inches, embroidery; Sauceireminidenkikasa, drawing on paper, 10 x 7 inches

For the second year running, Vancouver has held the Drawn Festival. It’s an International call for artists working in the medium of drawing, which seems to have no borders to its definition. The Pendulum Gallery at Georgia and Howe is the venue, this year, for the resulting exhibition.

Completely separate from that, several galleries  in Vancouver reserve time in  July and early August to hold uniquely drawing exhibitions. Lynn Ruscheinsky is a curator working for the Elliott Louis Gallery who selected Takashi Iwasaki and Mary Hrbacek for the show.

I was in the neighborhood picking up framing for my own show at the Fort Gallery, and decided to check it out .  I was lured in by what looked like luscious large charcoal drawings of tree trunks.

The large drawings (30 x 32 inches) by Mary Hrbacek were counter-foiled by some very delicate small drawings (7 inches by 10 inches) by Takashi Iwasaki, a Japanese artist.  This exhibition could not have been easily hung since the work is diametrically opposed in nature.

Iwasaki’s small drawings are shown as well as some of his stitchery. The drawings act as maquettes for the needlework. Both from their fineness and delicacy, I assumed they were made by a woman, but when I spoke to Katherine who was tending the gallery, she informed me that, no, it was unusual, but these were the workings of a young man!

The drawings are finely executed, echoing some of the most inventive schoolbook doodling I have ever seen, with the shapes reminiscent of Paul Klee, the coloration of Wassily Kandinsky  and the spirit and balance of Joan Miro. They could be classed in the realm of Surrealism. There is no reference to objects and  as such are a good example of pure abstraction.

Seen from afar, one could be excused if they thought they were looking at oil paintings, for the larger works. Up close, you can see the threads sewn ever so precisely to fill in the shapes created by his imagery. There is no room for the slightest error. It’s impossible to take out a patch and put in another. The  threads are laid so well that there is no sense of surface texture – a block of them will be all at the same height and so reflect light as if the block were a single colour with no texture. It’s a pretty marvelous marriage of technical virtuosity and esoteric imagery.

The colours are light and clean – with either a white background or a black one, sewn over with clear yellows, pinks, robin’s egg blues and reds.

I like Iwasaki’s philosophy. In his artist’s statement, he says,”Life is too short to take gravely all the time. I want to delight in what I can when I can.”   That spirit shines through in his work.

If I had two words to sum up this body of work, I would say “purity” and “playfulness”.

I took a look on his web-site and was surprised by his prolific output.  More than that, with this very geometric and abstract style,  I was surprised to see that he has some work in a high-realism vein.  For an artist to shine in both domains is quite unusual and speaks of an incredible creativity. He’s only 28 years old and has already garnered awards and a CV to die for.

Mary Hrbacek’s work, on the other hand, seeks animism in her images of tree trunks and speaks to an eco-disaster agenda.

Borrowing directly from the statement on the Elliott Louis Gallery web-site, her works are explained thus:

“To Mary Hrbacek, a tree is a thing of spiritual sustenance and renewal. Her trees are endowed with human-like qualities become the embodiment of mankind’s condition: the rising sap is the spirit of life, sexuality and regeneration, the barren winter branches and broken limbs foretell of immanent ecological disaster, disease and death. Hrbacek’s trees exert a powerful emotional influence.”

The charcoal drawings look great on the web site with  a range of dark and light that does not show on the originals.  In the latter, the tonal range is reduced to black and white with few dark grey variations between, and the detail of the form gets lost.  I liked best the drawing where the shift from the black shapes to the white are blurred as charcoal tends to do (Monster and Multi-faceted).  The greater majority though, were clean-edged to the point where the eraser rubbings on the paper show, roughing up the texture, not to any visual advantage.

When an artist depends solely on shape, the shapes need to be interesting and they need to move the eye around so that the viewer can continue to enjoy the image. It is in the nature of trees to branch out which lends itself to a “Y” shape configuration and Hrbacek has achieved a good variety within this restriction. The overall darkness in the imagery serves to emphasize the sense of a threatening eco-disaster. In this aspect, Hrbacek speaks to the prevailing global concern for the future.

As an outgrowth of these drawings, there are two large acrylic paintings, also of trees. The addition of colour is a miracle to these forms. The painting, Split Decision, an acrylic on linen, sings with a bright clear sky; and the mastery of form and shape through shadow are in excellent harmony.  This is a painting one could live with for a long time .

The other coloured image, acrylic on canvas,  “A secret” returns to two tones – the sky colour and the trunk colour – and has not the same joy in it though the animism is quite clear.  The right hand side of the trunk reads like a torso with its arms embracing the left part of the tree, reaching to encircle it and to whisper a message to the crotch of the branches. It is sensual and dark.

In fact, in many of these denuded tree trunks, one can imagine body parts – arms waving, woody knobs that look like breasts, and torsos thick with muscles.

Hrbacek’s own web-site also provides a broader vision of what this artist is capable of. The web address immediately following points to her tree paintings, but you will also be able to see some of her installation and other three-dimensional work  which, like Iwasaki, shows the depth of creativity in this artist. Hrbacek paintings.html

While the hanging of this show must have been difficult because of the strong opposition of the two styles, it nevertheless is quite elegantly done so that one can enjoy the delicacy of the small, stitched “drawings”  in an intimate close up way, and then face the other direction to enjoy a wide vista, a forest of charcoal trunks in their substantive strength and variety. It shows the openness of the Drawn Festival jury to select widely opposing styles, not limited by a single vision, but welcoming to a variety of styles and expressions.

Look for more images of Iwasaki and Hrbacek on

and if you are in Vancouver, go take a look.