Monday, September 24, 2012

Aya Eukawa: The Feminine through Power & Control (by: Monica Carrier)

A beautiful hot summer day, my daughter and I rode a long, scenic train ride North of the city.  We arrived at a farm and met with the artist Aya Eukawa, her young daughter and her husband, also an artist.

There were bees buzzing around and carrots for the girls to feed to the bunnies. We spent the early afternoon picking strawberries in the vast fields. This idyllic setting was the start of a peaceful and inspiring visit

Following our family fun time, Aya and I got down to business and to the other side of our lives as artists. 

We traveled from the farm over to an old high school building that now serves as studios.  When we entered Aya's studio space, I was overwhelmed at the size and power of female figures commanding the space.  Aya is currently working on two 10-foot tall acrylic paintings of sad, stoic women.  One of them, inspired by German Renaissance painter Lucas Cranach's Venus, is covered in finely detailed hair growing over her entire body, like a depiction of Eve as a feral goddess. This woman also resembles Aya a bit since she used herself as a partial reference - to me this gave the figure even more power. The other figure stands commanding a raging bull with ornate fur painted one tiny line at a time.   For the subject matter of this painting, Aya referenced the horrible ancient Greek torture and execution device known as the Brazen Bull.  Aya's woman stands within the bull accepting of her fate, sad but defiant in her composure.

Both of these figures are larger than life depictions of controlled, female sadness but with power in that control.  They are absolutely reminiscent of early Italian Renaissance figures but with a much more graphic quality so that they seem to move between reality and dreams.  Their perfectly smooth rendered flesh against the obsessive, graphic patterning of their hair and clothes along with the stark surrounding space absent of detail, gives them more mystery than there would be in a more specific setting.  In response to my question about why her figures are almost always these sad, controlled women, Aya refers to her personal history growing up in Japan.  She feels that this kind of control permeates the culture in which she was raised and she found it especially notable in the women of her family. She sees it as a kind of cultural defense and to avoid revealing too many emotions or weaknesses.

Aya will be showing these two paintings, in a three-person show at the Baltimore Museum of Art in March.

In selecting work for the upcoming Spring tART show, I kept in the back of my mind the idea of conversations between works that Jess Levey brought up when visiting my studio.  Aya had a couple of delicate pencil drawings in her studio that I felt brought a similar sense of unintentional communication between the works.  The first is a study for another painting of a head, just a head, with detailed long flowing hair alluding to the thought that this head has just rolled to where it is quietly sitting.  Despite the fact that it is a study for a larger painting it holds the same narrative of stoic sadness. The second is a study for the painting with the bull. It is a profile portrait seeming to look not with shock or horror towards the disembodied head on the paper next to it but simply with controlled regret.  Composure is the dominating presence in all of Aya's works.  Pairing these two drawings maintains the composure of both the victim (of the assumed beheading) as well as the witness to that horror. There is no panic anywhere to be seen despite the panic-worthy conditions.  There is sadness and strength in control. This is true in the stories of the women that are presented as well as in the obsessive, clean techniques of the artist. 

I left with the knowledge that we must keep going, keep steadily working, with our heads held high despite what hardships we face. We are strong, we can breathe through anything and just keep working.