When you get the perfect pairing of medium, form and expression in one gallery, it’s a pleasure just to walk around and drink it in. Such a pairing is up right now at The Gallery at TCC, where award-winning Japanese-trained artists Fumiko Kimura and Rob Fornell fill the walls and center with their sumi-e and ceramics, each deeply respecting these Japanese art forms while exploring new techniques to express a similar serene joy.
It’s a big show — 41 works for Kimura, 36 for Fornell — and organized more by clustering similar styles of work than in any formal retrospective manner. The effect is harmonious and balanced, though a little too crowded to be quite Japanese. The dialogue between two- and three-dimensional work draws the eye smoothly around the gallery.
Kimura’s more exuberant works fill the opening: three costumes made for Tacoma City Ballet in the early 1990s, the unitards sprinkled with a galaxy of glittery circles and swipes, backgrounded by more serious ink brushings, and the purple ballet slippers shining like Christmas. The exuberance continues with “Pink Ubiquity” and “It’s Just the Way,” two large canvases that in different media inhabit the same joyful universe: large pastel stripes of paint overlaying geometric shapes, with angular collages of thin paper in purples, silvers and blacks.
Kimura’s earlier sumi works explore dimension, with deep black foregrounds and wafty watercolor backgrounds. Tacoma’s Holy Rosary Church looks like Paris in the rain, and Nara Park hides serene spirits in the soft folds of its vegetation. Her “Exploration” series of 2010 gives texture its own dimension with unusual, handmade materials: chimney-soot ink, sausage casings, shells and twigs on handmade paper as thick as plaster. Teabags expand like sepia doorways into memory. The “Explorations” of the 1970s (Kimura, the founder of the Puget Sound Sumi-e Association, has been making art for 60 years) bring in gold leaf for a wash of iridescent color like a swishing kimono. In a 2004 work, gold leaf shines on a Chinese-style landscape painted in coral-reef colors, like a fairy tale.
Recent work includes 2014 calligraphy-infused watercolors, abstract and more restrained, a marriage of deliberate sumi strokes with the unpredictable melting of watercolor.
But maybe the most beautiful is Kimura’s Asian brush calligraphy in its most traditional form. With superb control of ink depth, balanced composition and a creative texture that constantly surprises, Kimura has mastered this modern-day, Puget Sound-inspired sumi-e: Her rendering of Point Defiance’s Japanese Garden is hauntingly beautiful.
Fornell, occupying the center space (and one wall) with his stoneware, is the perfect complement to Kimura. Using abstract, slumping form with a constant sumi-style experimentation in glaze (from splashes to discreet underlinings) and texture that ranges from craquelure to rough iron to smooth sheen, Fornell’s work talks to Kimura’s in a language both traditional and highly innovative.