New Insights Coming Out of the Wood Work

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

At the Granados 2 Gallery these days, appearances can be artfully deceiving.

Sculptor Kenzi Shiokava's tall, lean wooden pieces, which have been altered and treated in various ways, initially suggest a grove of trees. But, for the artist, these works--reflections on the natural world, urban life and the idea of transformation--represent nature once or twice removed.

In fact, the wood used by the artist is salvaged--railroad ties, old telephone poles, beams, roots and other found objects available to the urbanized artist. With a process that combines recycling with a touch of urban archeology, Shiokava has created sculptures that walk the line between the found and the fabricated, between the natural and the imposed gesture.

Born in Japan and raised in Brazil, Shiokava has been in Los Angeles for several years. One could speculate that his heritage prepared him for this work, wood being a particularly precious resource in Japan and a source of global controversy in Brazil, home of the rain-forest disappearing act.

In effect, Shiokava is demonstrating recurring themes of regeneration and the life-and-death cycle. He reinvests life and purpose in these once-utilitarian and dormant hunks of wood, now elevated to the status of art. He may as well be referring to his own working process with the "Triptych: Change," which carries the subtitles "Passing," "Indelibly" and "Irrevocably."

With his works under the title of "Urban Totems," Shiokava invites a socio-ecological interpretation of how wood is both treasured and squandered in cities. The artist also deals with more personal archetypes, as in the "Mother's Totems." These are solid, upright forms symbolizing the fecund body, but are carved out in the center, to create embracing, nurturing concavities.

There's something bold and heroic about these works--standing tall, full of totemistic bravura--but there is also an undercurrent of melancholy. Many of the pieces in this exhibition are presented as memorials, not so much tinged with moroseness as with respect for the subjects' legacy.

"Elegy to a Gardener" includes a bottle-shaped base and burnt, gnarled upper section, organized into a roughly figurative image. "Elegy to Father" is a tall, proud form split into three sections, as if the central body has been granted angel's wings.

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The elegies, created with symbolism-charged materials found in nature, continue in Shiokava's relief pieces in the front room of the gallery. "Ode to Loved One's Passing" memorializes the departed with a bag of dead leaves beneath a dried plant frond in a visual relationship that evokes the human body and head.

Appealing as it is on first, cursory glance, Shiokava's exhibition rewards closer scrutiny. This is one of those shows in which intriguing surfaces are bolstered by conceptual underpinnings. Considering the origins and manipulations of his materials, the work is a touching meditation on natural process, the possibility of redemption, and a respect for death and the dead.

All of this and an impressive way with wood.

DETAILS

* WHAT: "Act of Faith," wood works by Kenzi Shiokava.

* WHERE: Granados 2 Gallery, 3221 Glendale Blvd., Atwater Village.

* WHEN: 6-9 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, through July 13.

* CALL: (213) 662-9930.

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