Commentary : sights : Light Forms : In 'Illuminated Sculptures,' Lancaster meets Tokyo as distinctive functional art.


Some call them lamps. Their creators call them "illuminated sculptures."

Tokyo-based artisans Shoichi and Colleen Sakurai apply sculptural sensibilities to the art of creating subtle sources of light with handmade paper, elegant design and natural "found" materials.

In doing so, they perform a delicate dance between form and function.

For their American debut, the artists have decamped at Utopian Design, a store on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City that specializes in domestic accessories, decorative arts and fine art.

Owner Darren Frank displayed his affinity for Asian aesthetics this summer with a show called "Visions of Buddha" that featured the gently wry paintings of Jane Goren, including "Buddha Bar, Paris" and "Dirty Laundry in the Shadow of Buddha."

The Sakurai show is something different, a convergence of decorative arts and sculptural thinking. We know we're not in "Lamps R Us" from the outset. In the storefront window are several pieces called "bags," which look like large, refined sacks illuminated from within.

"The Pods" carry forward the same principle of sensuously textured paper gathered into pod-like volumes and stacked vertically on a sculpted wood base. The bases, like other elements of the works, are steeped in handiwork and nature. Often made from Japanese cedar, they are burned and waxed to create visual distinction.

Colleen Sakurai, originally from Lancaster, traveled the world and wound up in Tokyo as a jazz singer with a keen eye for design. She teamed with her husband, whose father was a craftsman in the shoji tradition of intricate paper and wood lattice designs for doors and windows. Some pieces combine the work of father, son and wife.

Whether inspired by her small-town California roots or not, some of her pieces blend chicken wire with handmade paper. Her "Angel's Wings" and "Dragon's Wings" are simple and effective spiral designs of woven paper meant to envelop votive candles.

Shoichi Sakurai's assemblages cleverly recycle gnarly bits of retread tires, with the scrappy black curlicues assuming the appearance of calligraphic gestures in three dimensions.

This couple's work, whether in the functional mode of sculptural lamps or art for art's sake, suggests a cross-cultural aesthetic venture.

Eastern circumspection and economy meets the Western anything-goes attitude. The aesthetic equation works nicely.


"Illuminated Sculptures" by Shoichi and Colleen Sakurai at Utopia Design, 12212 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. Through October. A reception for the artists will be held tonight from 6 to 9 at the studio. (818) 755-0762.

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