The window of James Harris Gallery in Pioneer Square is filled with what looks like a large urn. Once inside the gallery, it turns out to be the larger-than-life ceramic head of a young boy wearing a solemn expression and what might be a translucent yellow bathing cap. He faces into the gallery and down a hallway to a small room where the life-size figures of two more boys wait. Standing at the entrance to that room, the viewer can make eye contact with all three BOYS. This installation by ceramicist and sculptor Akio Takamori is a serious look at childhood innocence.
For the past fifteen years, Takamori’s work has revealed human nature in large stoneware figures drawn from history and memory, myth and reality. “Karako” are divine beings in Japanese mythology that embody the innocence and wisdom that coexist in infants and the elderly; the transformational states that mark the beginning and end of life. Karako have played an ongoing role in Takamori’s art. A few years ago, his laughing monks evoked old age and innocence. Now he is exploring the wisdom of children. The two figures in this exhibition (image, left), the seventh and eighth in the BOYS series are not happy bouncing babies. The twin boys are naked except for blue striped socks, fist-like blue mitts, and black scull caps. They stand on a platform that puts them eye-to-eye with adults. Though their bodies are child-like, their facial expressions are both knowing and vulnerable, their nudity honest and sensual.
“The very last part and the very early part of human life are very mysterious to me,” says Takamori. He witnessed this cycle of wisdom and innocence in his own father, a physician who suffered from dementia in the last decade of his life. During trips to the mall, the old man would laugh with delight at the sight of babies. “He reminded me of the laughing monk,” Takamori recalls. In BOYS, the artist looks at the other side of the dual nature of Karako.
“The infant boy is an embodiment of the vulnerable human life,” he says. “Two opposed themes are joined in one body… his uncertainty and the expansiveness of his future and death.”
Takamori’s past installations used groups of a dozen or more of his large ceramic figures to convey a narrative or a sense of place. This installation is more like a conversation. It occupies a small room, only ten feet wide. Both boys look warily to their left so that, on entering the room, the viewer is caught in their very serious gaze. The brightly lit, intensely colored, almost claustrophobic setting forces a certain intimacy with the work. You must get acquainted with these BOYS, there is not enough distance to passively view them.
Akio Takamori: BOYS, is on view through April 30 at the James Harris Gallery, located at 312 – 2nd Ave. S. in Seattle. Call (206) 903-6220 or visit www.jamesharrisgallery.com.