Jun Kaneko is internationally renowned for his massive ceramic sculptures, in dozens of public art installations in the U.S. and Japan and major museum collections throughout the world. A compact survey of some 40 works from the past 20 years is now on view at Traver Gallery.
Over his six-decade career, Kaneko has developed several distinctive ongoing bodies of work. While teaching a workshop in Omaha, Nebraska in the mid 1980s, he visited an industrial brickworks, home to a kiln large enough to fire “50,000 cups or a few big pieces.” That inspired the Dango, a hand-built ceramic monolith several feet tall, closed at the top and glazed with colorful graphic designs. This became a signature form for Kaneko, who relocated to Omaha where he continues to produce his largest ceramic pieces. Aside from their sheer visual impact, they are remarkable for the technical skill required to build and fire an object this size in clay. Half a dozen Dangos are in this show.
After decades working purely in abstraction, in 1993, Kaneko introduced human form in larger-than-life raku ceramic heads. Similar in scale and surface design to the Dangos, the heads are presented on spare rectangular steel pedestals. This show includes two recent examples.
Kaneko first trained as a painter and he continues to paint. The show includes several works in sumi ink on rice paper and two acrylics on canvas. Bringing together works in various media, produced over a twenty-year period, illustrates the progression and integration of Kaneko’s aesthetic. Graphic imagery from paintings is repeated in ceramic glazes. Painterly surfaces and techniques spill over onto ceramic works. Wall-mounted panels and platters are glazed with bold brush strokes. A design of colorful bars superimposed on a splattered black and white ground appears on both a sumi painting and the glaze on a Dango. Several ceramic pieces are patterned with free-form dots, their surfaces rendered three-dimensional by thick drips of glaze and the contrast of matte and gloss.
Although known for its monumental scale, Kaneko’s work does not feel constricted in this gallery setting. Both rooms of Traver Gallery have been devoted to the exhibition. The largest works are given enough space to be viewed in perspective. Even the panels and platters feel oversized, as if commissioned for a giant.
Jun Kaneko: Selected Works is on view through May at Traver Gallery in downtown Seattle; some pieces will remain on display through July 1. Information at 206.587.6501 or travergallery.com