Review by Rob de los Reyes
Mayuko Ono Gray: Following the Path by Rob de los Reyes
Galveston Arts Center Galveston, TX
August 27 – October 2, 2011
Mayuko Ono Gray, whose works tend toward the figurative, revisits and re-imagines that most classical of Japanese art forms – calligraphy – in an extensive exhibition titled Following the Path. The works consist of graphite drawings on paper, each illustrating a single “thread” bent and looped to form the Japanese characters for favorite proverbs from Gray’s childhood interwoven into otherwise abstract shapes. The “threads” are illustrated in three dimensional style, creating a unique challenge for calligraphy which, with brush and ink, simply involves one line crossing over another on a single plane. In these works, by contrast, Gray must make decisions as to the exact spatial relations between crossed or looped threads, including which portions of the overall shape may be seen to occupy foreground or background.
There is more at stake here than the technical challenge of keeping the threads continuous or rendering the Japanese characters in a clean, aesthetically pleasing way (the central challenge of classic calligraphy). For Gray, the tangles and curves of the drawings serve as a metaphor for the sometimes winding pathways of life – some curves are detours rather than specifically sought ends. Where we tend to be tempted to think of such detours in life as failures, wasted time, or otherwise extraneous to our “real” lives, Gray’s drawings offer a manifest sense of how even the seemingly unrelated meanderings can be seen to support an overall shape if only one steps back to admire the whole picture.
The proverbs represented are famous to the Japanese and meaningful in some way to Gray. And while the shapes of each piece tend to the abstract, some shapes offer a more literal or deliberate sense of the meaning of the proverb itself. This is particularly true in the drawings titled “Four Seasons,” the largest of the drawings in the exhibit and the only ones meant to be viewed together in sequence. The series, viewed in order, offers not only the individual story of each drawing but also a tale of a human relationship over time. Although still abstract, the shapes convey the image of two people in tentative proximity in “Spring,” closely-gripped heat in “Summer,” and then a gradual fading to a plaintive grasping in “Winter.”
At once studied and playful, the drawings create an opportunity both for an intellectual appreciation of the skill requisite to break the rules of traditional calligraphy with mastery, as well as the more visceral pleasures of following the tangled paths or abandoning such specificity for to absorb the shape as a whole.