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Entertainment & Arts

Review: Takako Yamaguchi turns white and gray paint into illusions of startling intensity

One of Takako Yamaguchi’s untitled paintings (all oil on linen, 18 by 24 inches) from 2017-19 on view at As Is.
One of Takako Yamaguchi’s untitled paintings (all oil on linen, 18 by 24 inches) from 2017-19 on view at As Is.
(As Is)

The first visual sweep of the gallery walls at the Pico-Union gallery As Is leaves an impression of extreme restraint. Takako Yamaguchi’s 17 oils on linen are all of the same modest size (18 by 24 inches) and hushed palette, a narrow spectrum of cool whites veering toward gray, and warm whites leaning brown. But the whisper too is a rhetorical device, capable of carrying as much intensity and urgency as a shout — and a lot more virtuosity.

Geometry prevails in these untitled works. The L.A.-based Yamaguchi either presents the canvas as if a sculptural element itself, painted with ridges and creases and layers of depth, or treats it as a neutral surface upon which she renders a form atop (parallelogram, eye, grid of circles), as though in shallow relief. As she plays with illusion and dimension, these highly reduced images open up, their formal distillation yielding conceptual complexity.

One of Takako Yamaguchi’s untitled paintings (all oil on linen, 18 by 24 inches) from 2017-19 on view at As Is.
One of Takako Yamaguchi’s untitled paintings (all oil on linen, 18 by 24 inches) from 2017-19 on view at As Is.
(As Is)

In one quiet dazzler, an accordion-fold panel appears set on the surface, casting such convincing triangular shadows that you might tilt your gaze to confirm that the canvas is flat.

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Another features side-by-side circles, one that looks like a convex mound, the other like a concave scoop. One painting appears overlaid with horizontal bands, slim steps that rise and fall like some distant descendant of M.C. Escher. Several pieces have surfaces that mimic paper that has been folded, then re-opened and flattened, like origami in progress. Yamaguchi is deft with the volume control, finding a sweet spot between dialed-down Op Art, straight-ahead trompe l’oeil and amped-up monochrome minimalism.

Earlier work embraced the stylized and ornamental more explicitly, drawing from kimono fabrics and Japanese screen painting, the landscapes of Roger Brown and the animism of such early modernists as Agnes Pelton. Yamaguchi is represented in “With Pleasure,” MOCA’s current survey of the Pattern and Decoration movement. In her last show at As Is, she presented a series of small, tightly cropped views of her chest or waist, her garments rendered with meticulous tenderness: crochet top, trench coat, cardigan. The paintings resonated with Victoria Gitman’s exquisite portraits of vintage beaded and feathered handbags in their invocations of hand labor, signifiers of female identity and adorned surfaces as second skins.

These new paintings are less sensual, more like optical or intellectual exercises. Their implied textures are more anonymous, suggestive of blank paper or something molded, padded or blind-embossed. As calm as these pared-down performances seem, however, they still generate a wild whir of challenge and gratification. Even from just white, gray and brown, technicolor sparks fly.

One of Takako Yamaguchi’s untitled paintings (all oil on linen, 18 by 24 inches) from 2017-19 on view at As Is.
One of Takako Yamaguchi’s untitled paintings (all oil on linen, 18 by 24 inches) from 2017-19 on view at As Is.
(As Is)

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Yamaguchi
Where: As Is, 1133 Venice Blvd., L.A.

When: Tuesdays-Saturdays, through Dec. 21

Info: (213) 610-4110, www.as-is.la
Yamaguchi
Where: As Is, 1133 Venice Blvd., L.A.

When: Tuesdays-Saturdays, through Dec. 21

Info: (213) 610-4110, www.as-is.la

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