Miyoko Ito: Matrix 267 at Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive

Shotgun Review

Miyoko Ito: Matrix 267 at Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive

By Charmaine Koh February 27, 2018

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Charmaine Koh reviews Miyoko Ito: Matrix 267 at Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.

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I first encountered the late Miyoko Ito’s paintings last fall, having never heard of her before then. An image of her work from the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) retrospective, Matrix 267, popped up on my Instagram feed one day—and stuck in my mind all through winter. Perhaps it had something to do with her glowing gradations of color, or how her confections of odd shapes seemed at once serious and whimsical. Perhaps it was the little spark of excitement I felt at coming across an abstract painter who was an Asian American woman from a time when primarily white men were recognized—she lived from 1918 to 1983—and one based in Chicago when the art world revolved around New York.

I was filled with the sense of something quietly unexpected when I stood before Ito’s paintings. The shapes on the canvas were still and slightly awkward, yet conjured a menagerie of shifting impressions. In Tabled Presence (1971), what initially appeared as a roomlike space became on second glance the head of a squat, robotic figure; in First Verdona (1983), a funny, side-gazing creature morphed into a landmass beneath the tides; Oracle (1967–8) was at once a doorway of tongues that could speak out and a box that might close in. All were bathed in the half-lights of sunrises meeting sunsets, floating between emergence and submergence like a cross section of sky and sea.

Something about the color gradients gave me pause. I would usually associate these with cheesy digital effects, but here they were strange, otherworldly. I peered up close at the texture hinting through their flat surfaces to find tamped-down marks that were matted like thick paper fibers, beneath which seeped underlayers of color. The thought of paper brought to mind 19th-century Japanese woodblock prints, and I realized these were what the color gradients recalled. In Ito’s paintings, as in woodblock prints, the gradients signaled shifts in spaces—from ether to nether realms, from inner to outer, from the physical world to that of the mind.

Not much has been written about Ito, and her work hasn’t been extensively shown—the BAMPFA exhibition was the first solo presentation of her work in Berkeley, and the first in a public institution in nearly forty years. Ito studied art at UC Berkeley, Smith College, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; her style was informed first by cubism, then surrealism and pop art; she had loose ties to the Chicago imagists; she received a traditional Japanese art education as a young girl. It seemed fitting that she thus floated between categories, working in the interstices just as her paintings communicated interstitial spaces. I let my mind drift with the images before me—gentle reminders to look, imagine, and feel beyond what I thought I knew.

Miyoko Ito: Matrix 267 was on view at Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, CA through January 28, 2018.

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