While sets of wide vertical lines stretch upward on the canvas, thin ones stream across the landscape at sharp angles. The overlapping creates an abstract, grid-like formation with a rough texture surrounded by etchings of Chinese holographs encoding the nearly identical row of silverpoint artwork.
The Handwerker Gallery opened the exhibition “Personal Codes” Oct. 21. It features the work of Michiko Itatani, a Chicago-based artist and a professor at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, until Dec. 10.
“Personal Codes” is an autobiographical “power of fiction” that explores the concept of human existence and its understanding. In her statement, Itatani said she draws inspiration from human achievements and fuses the additive and ecstatic elements of the West with the meditative and symbolic ones of the East.
While previous gallery exhibits have featured more small-scale prints, viewers can expect to see more large-scale oil paintings along with Itatani’s silverpoint drawings in this exhibition.
While there is no theme for the exhibit, Erika Fowler-Dactur, interim director of the gallery, said it’s nice when the schedule has different artworks.
“We try to bring as much diverse work in here as possible to get as many students, faculty, staff and community members to come see the works,” she said.
The entire show encompasses two complementary series. In “Moon Light/Mooring,” Itatani is more sparse and stylized with her paintings, whereas in “HyperBaroque” the artist implies an ornate aesthetic.
Fowler-Dactur said each one contrasts the other with its aesthetic.
“Works in ‘Moon Light/Mooring’ are more introspective or looking in,” she said. “The ‘HyperBaroque’ series works have more to do with the desire for outward knowledge — with seeking knowledge outside of ourselves.”
Junior Kelly McKennan, a monitor-assistant at the gallery, said the large-scale works had a more tranquil effect on her. She said it offers viewers time to reflect.
“It feels almost peaceful when you stand in front of it,” she said. “It’s not as easy to come up with a judgment right away.”
In a 98-by-154 inch oil painting titled “Cosmic Wonderlust,” Itatani depicts a brighter scene. White and light gray tree-like figures are rooted atop a white background. An orange ring glows around the base of a white trunk while grid-lined shapes jut out.
Sprinkled atop the canvas are off-white and blue-gray dots that give the painting a 3-D surface.
Many of the paintings from “HyperBaroque” depict library spaces exposed to sky with no ceiling space. The artist’s use of ornate decorations, pastel colors and abstract detail draws more realism to the works.
Each piece in the “HyperBaroque” series contains a repeating pattern of globes that resemble planets, while others are more imaginary. Drawn to the scene, senior Sara Rawson said the globes reminded her of planets. With a deep blue, star-dusted ceiling and an earth-toned flooring, Rawson said the painting “Star Messenger” changed her view of the scene.
“I love that this is taking me inside and outside and bringing it together,” she said. “There are the walls, and then it looks like the rings are street lights. The outside [of the painting] could easily be foliage and the sky be stars.”
Fowler-Decatur said when she met Itatani at the gallery’s “Artist Talk” on Oct. 28, Itatani was a woman of few words. When explaining her work, she said the artist did not want to reveal too much detail.
“Her work sometimes, for certain viewers, is frustrating,” she said. “It’s very important to her that the viewer brings his or her own interpretation of the artwork to the gallery when viewing her works.”
A signature facet of Itatani’s work is her repetition of symbols. Each of her pieces includes an enclosed ring of miniature dots that contrasts the background of the canvas. Fowler-Decatur said her 10-year-old son interpreted one of the painting’s rings as fireflies.
“He visited a pond, and there are fireflies out there,” Fowler-Decatur said. “That’s his experience, and he brought that to the painting. That’s exactly what [Itatani] wants her viewer to do.”