Lights, shadows and space


During the day, beams of sunlight push in obliquely through the glass windows at Galley Mcube in Lalitpur, dividing the white walls in angles of coolness and warmth in a mysterious harmony. This mystery is heightened this month by the paintings by two Japanese artists, Izumi Tanabe and Hideo Iida, that hang on the walls, adding an alluring array of colours and texture to the open gallery.

Collectively titled ‘Crossing Nepal-Japan’, the two solo exhibitions focus on the confluence of cultures in a shared space, through explorations of nature, body, space and time. Visitors are absorbed in the polyphonic ripples of abstract expressions. This is the third time the artists are in Kathmandu to show their works, the most recent exhibition was in 2019 at Mcube.

Izumi’s soft oil paint on canvas (pictured above and below) decorate the walls upstairs, titled the ‘Hanabi’ series. The 20 paintings give the viewer an image of shifting colours as eyes adjust and readjust to the changing scheme of light in the room. One of the paintings shows a cluster of branches billowing in the wind, against a blue, watercolour sky. The wintery look is balanced by the earthy tones that lightly drape the canvas.

Next to it is its sibling: branches, or perhaps roots upside down, that progressively diffuse upwards in a stream of blue in many shades. Nature is prominent here, with paintings that represent solitary, strong trees against an exploding dawn, or reflected on pools of water.

The landscape is reminiscent of Nepali countryside, at various turns of seasons. One painting looks like hills amidst a thick layer of mist seen through a green lens, while several canvases share a crumpled and knotted motif -- like bedsheets early in the morning. The angles and the movements remind one of sleeping or dancing bodies, and are hypnotic and sacred, delicate and at once enduring.

To Izumi, the inspiration comes from the mountains and the rice paddies that she visited during her childhood in Japan. ‘I remember those days,’ she writes. ‘I saw [the women] standing and walking, leaning into the wind. They were the ones I looked up to.’

The transience and strength of the women Izume saw and met as a child in the fields and in nature, in the decaying trees had a startling impact on her imagination, prompting her to want to draw the images standing with dignity, surrounded by greenery. To a Nepali audience, this strikes a familiar note. All worldly condiments are pared off to reveal the pure objective expression in a dance of light and shadow, drawing attention to the arduous journey of women for survival, expression and freedom.

Hiedo’s acrylic paints (pictured above and below) are not so different in their pursuits, even though they may at first glance appear as if looking outwards and away into an entirely new dimension. While Izumi’s work is characterised by a sweeping subtlety, Hideo’s paintings are more intense in their use of colours.

Space is central to Hideo’s works, and two paintings immediately strike one as being images of the earth, with clouds breezing past, as the deep blue sea below steals glances through them. Impressions of gridlines emphasise the space, with the margins and gaps appearing like longitudes and latitudes.

The search for space began for Hideo during his college years when he took interest in the structure of conch shells. Writes Hideo: ‘I have expressed the depth and time of the space by sliding the line extending radially from the shape of the center … so that the layer overlaps the layer downward.’

Silver washes over in the paintings, creating a dazzling layer that works well with the gold and green surface, adding to the otherworldliness. But on second look, one wonders whether the viewer is really looking outwards exclusively, or really into the caverns of one’s own self.

Both Izumi’s and Hideo’s works are spiritual in their essence. While they may be difficult to understand at once, they invite the viewer to return for a second look, and then a third and so on. The myriad of colours harmonise to reveal worlds that are familiar and foreign simultaneously, and relatable. They ask you to revel in the serene quietude and look around:   after all, art transcends words.

Crossing Nepal-Japan:

Solo Exhibitions by Izumi Tanabe and Hideo Iida

Gallery Mcube

Chakupat, Lalitpur

Until 13 November 2022

Ashish Dhakal


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