In philosophy, the concept of “state of being” refers to a person’s essence or fundamental nature. It is used to describe the totality of a person’s existence and experience at a given moment. Minako Iwamura conjures states of being from the alchemy of geometric shape, fine line and richly luminous color. These works invite the viewer to encounter a visual representation of an interior state that exists beyond the physical world. They are intended to evoke a sense of connection through the play of their formal elements.
An affinity for geometry lies at the heart of the paintings in this series. For Iwamura, it provides an “undeniable truth and an irrefutable structure”, a formal rigor in what could otherwise be perceived as an ambiguous or ethereal space. She came to realize that every geometric form in the paintings contained an “invisible circle” - a universal symbol for infinity and a shape that is, according to Carl Jung, “one of the great primordial images of mankind”. She has suggested the spirituality some viewers perceive in her work could arise from a response to the circular form. For her, questions of spirituality within the work are more ambiguous, although she concedes there may be something at play on an unconscious level.
She explains the shapes in these paintings in terms of duality - as existing somewhere between abstraction and figuration in the form of a vessel. The vase has a long and storied history in art, and continues to be a source of inspiration for contemporary artists around the world. From traditional pottery to conceptual installations, the vase has been reimagined and reinvented in countless ways, serving as a powerful symbol of culture, tradition, and human creativity. Artists like Ai Weiwei and Grayson Perry have used the vase as a way of commenting on the intersection of East and West, and the tensions that can arise between tradition and modernity. While Iwamura is eager to allow the viewer their own interpretation of her work, she has written:
The decision to introduce vessel form into my paintings came quickly on a gut level during the tumultuous time of the pandemic lockdown and the BLM protests. Vessel form, ubiquitous in every civilization, has expansive associations, such as the human figure and uterine form, and religious reference to the chalice as well as esoteric association to alchemy. It is a container that holds a significant essence that one decides to place (within it). It embodies a sense of envelopment, encapsulating the essence and the core of a matter.
Iwamura’s exploration of duality can be expanded to encompass the wider body of her work, concerning the coexistence of geometry and nature, the singular and the collective, parameter and chaos to name a few, as well as her own life experience. She has encountered the ‘precarious state of in-betweenness” that has arisen from a life lived between cultures:
There’s a well known saying in Japan; to hammer down a nail that sticks out. I grew up being torn between this concept and the individualism of American culture. The two cultures are contrasting at the base level, and the social mores that come along with it differ. Feeling torn in between, finding a way that is authentic to me, became a theme during my adolescence, which led me to painting.
The experience of living between two cultures, Iwamura also sees mirrored in her art practice. While she works in oil, a medium particular to Western art, she paints flatly and with a matte finish akin to Nihonga. Her process, building layer by layer, is analogous to that of Japanese woodblock print making, where the image is a composite of layers, and in which the craft of each step is as significant as the end product.
In describing her process, Iwamura explains there is no preconceived image at the start, the works take form as the painting progresses:
I begin by making a loose gestural drawing with a soft pencil on tracing paper. I draw one shape at a time, clean and perfect the lines with an eraser, and cut a template out of this drawing. I mask around the template on the wood panel that already has a gradation painted, and paint a gradation inside the masked area. Painted in layers, each shape goes through this process. I let the surprising and unexpected aspects of this process to lead the painting to its completion.
The idea of drawing with white charcoal pencil on top of the painted matte surface came to the artist by chance while working in the studio, and it expanded into a whole series of works on paper:
The current work began as an extension to those works on paper, initially to express a psychological state of suspended tension by juxtaposing curvilinear forms. Since then, the vessel forms became Since then, the vessel forms became more dominant, and yet the white charcoal lines are crucial in bringing the painting into its rightful state. To me, the curvilinear forms without the white charcoal lines feel incomplete; they exist together like light and shadow.
Despite the flattened perspective, the resulting symmetrical forms that emerge suggest a multi-dimensionality by using layers of gradations of color that allude to transparency. The palette in Iwamura’s work is inspired by photographs she takes of the natural world and are, for her, the most “immediate and visceral aspect of a painting”. She cites the work of American artist James Turrell, a leading figure of the “Light and Space” movement, as influence and inspiration. Color for both Turrell and Iwamura becomes a conduit for visual sensation and emotive response:
Just like the sense of smell, color retains and revives memories. Colors also respond to other colors. And thus, one gradation taken from a photograph of a sky at dusk can set and direct the entire painting.
It it possible to trace a line from the pioneer of abstraction, Hilma AF Klint (1862-1944) to Iwamura’s work. Klint's paintings often incorporate geometric shapes and symbols that she believed held spiritual significance. Among these shapes were vessel forms, to suggest the idea of a container holding spiritual energy. For Iwamura, it is the work of artist Agnes Pelton (1881-1961) that most clearly resonates. Pelton’s paintings are characterized by their luminous colors and biomorphic forms. She often used abstraction to represent spiritual concepts and experiences, and described her paintings as:
Little windows, opening to the view of a region, much visited consciously or by intention - an inner realm, rather than an outer landscape.
Much like Pelton’s works, the paintings in this exhibition embody an internal contemplation. They are meditations on duality and liminal space, an exploration of the intangible whilst being rooted in symmetry and the mathematics of geometry. We are invited to encounter an “inner realm” where Iwamura has striven to conjure a distillation of "essence". By absorbing her vocabulary of harmonious forms coupled with the potency and tension of color and line, we might perhaps be led to consider our own state of being.
Hawk + Hive 2023