In the mural “Shime,” by Japanese-American artist Juuri, two female figures are blanketed in blooming flora. One is bleeding from the cheek, a flower mysteriously covering one eye; the other has a finger to her lips, staring pensively at the viewer through an archipelago of golf leaf. Amid Juuri’s lively and tactile technique, with its dripping paint and layered visual surprises, are two sides of the same coin—a personality split between yin and yang.
Though the piece, on exhibit now at the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, is inspired by a classic work of kabuki theatre, each figure can be read as a version of the artist herself, torn between two cultures, that of her birth city of Tokyo and her adopted home in Oklahoma City. There is beauty and innovation in this tension, this collision of cultural and artistic influences, and it can be experienced in the other artists who share wall space with Juuri in the Morikami’s “Beyond the Wall: Visions of the Asian Experience in America.”
“Beyond the Wall,” organized by the Morikami and running all summer, features the work of five contemporary muralists of Japanese descent, each with a sense of towering scale or sprawling panorama. With only one work, or suite of works, by each artist, the exhibition can be absorbed swiftly—too swiftly, I would argue. It doesn’t allow for the cumulative engagement into a singular worldview that was provided by the Morikami’s previous exhibition, “Painting Enlightenment,” with its dozens of creations by a single artist. Instead, “Beyond the Wall” is more of an effective tease; if you’re like me, you’ll want to delve further into the oeuvres of all five of these talented street artists-cum-museum muralists.
They include Jacksonville-based Elena Øhlander, whose selection, “The Butterfly, the Flower and the Spider,” is not unlike the Juuri work explored above. It also features a female figure from the shoulders up, also festooned with traditional Japanese flowers, and with a canvas that marries acrylic with gold. With this natural beauty presented atop a base of old Japanese newspaper ads, the effect here is more Edenic—a world of vibrant nature and color eclipsing drab urbanity.
Casey Kawaguchi’s “Create Your Fate” also thrives on contrast, in this case between art and conflict. A kimonoed warrior holds a sheathed sword in one hand and extends a paintbrush with the other, the moonlight glinting off its bristles. Her main weapon, it seems, is her tool of creativity.
My favorite work in the exhibition is from an artist who is no stranger to Delray Beach—Hiromi Moneyhun, whose intricate paper cuts have been exhibited at both the Morikami and the Cornell Art Museum. In the slightly three-dimensional “Immersion,” we see a nude figure from behind standing in front of a buffet of options at a Japanese public bath. Each beckons with geometrically precise details, created in the artist’s patient and painstaking hand. The effect is Robert Frostian in its implications, its character a traveler poised at a pivotal crossroads, the ritual bath a metaphor for life.
Finally, the exhibition includes a fun triptych from Orlando’s Boy Kong. Painted onto bamboo mats, “Three Tigers” is a showcase for the artist’s versatility, with three wildly differing variations on the titular feline, but each radiating graphic novel-style kineticism. The unique bamboo canvas adds a slatted textural dimension to the artist’s stated love of “movement, exaggeration and playfulness.”
These works, all large of scale and appealing to both the head and the heart, are presented across two gallery spaces that have never felt more capacious. There may not be room for more, but after experiencing this appetizer, I wanted more nonetheless; each artist could surely fill a space twice this size.
“Beyond the Wall: Visions of the Asian Experience in America” runs through Sept. 25 at the Morikami, 4000 Morikami Park Road, Delray Beach. Admission is $15 adults, $13 seniors. Call 561/495-0233 or visit morikami.org.
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