Between “Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg” at the Museum of Contemporary Art and “Then They Came for Me” at Alphawood Gallery, local residents can encounter a major contemporary Japanese artist and learn about some of the history of Japanese life in America. Yet over at Shane Campbell Gallery in the South Loop there’s a show with a Japanese painter as its focus that has received less attention but is equally worthwhile: “Yui Yaegashi: The Rain Is Gone,” the second time the gallery has presented work by the artist.
Yaegashi’s paintings are diminutive—few are more than a foot tall or wide—and spare. Sometimes the composition will just be subtle shades of one color; other times a pattern with a few different hues; in some instances it’s mostly one shade with either one or a few smaller, intricate designs in a brighter, contrasting shade. Shane Campbell’s space feels like it’s as big as a basketball court, and the venue dwarfs Yaegashi’s contributions. But the disparity between the size of the room and the size of the art gently coerces the viewer to get up close to what’s being displayed, allowing visitors to notice the nuance and tone of each piece. With the bright daylight pouring in through the gallery’s windows, looking at Yaegashi’s oil paintings feels utterly serene.
There’s another, even smaller supplementary show in the back, and it’s just as enchanting as “The Rain Is Gone.” For “By the Lakeside,” Yaegashi selected a few works by three artists whose pieces seemed to match the tone of “The Rain Is Gone.” Judging from her website, LA-based Alexandra Noel tends to do intricate, multicolored paintings, but the patterns on her contributions—all around half a foot tall—echo the bright tone of Yaegashi’s work. Multidisciplinary artist Alison Veit’s Angela, a wall sculpture in which a mirror is placed in between a craggy border of sand and hydrostone, similarly channels the tranquility of “The Rain Is Gone.”
My two favorite pieces in the whole gallery are by Soshiro Matsubara, a Japanese artist who now lives in Vienna. His two sculptures are made of glazed ceramic. The first, Autumn Leaves, is a black lightbulb surrounded by leaves that feel like fragments of a lampshade scattered around the bulb. The second, Lovers in Blue is breathtaking—a kneeling man with his arm wrapped around the chest of a seated woman, her head bent slightly downward, all colored in sandy red and a chalky blue. Only a little bit more than a foot tall, Lovers in Blue intimates the key appeal of both “The Rain Is Gone” and “By the Lakeside”: You don’t have to create something big in order to generate a deep emotional response. v