FOCUS: Chinatsu Ban opened last weekend, and I haven't stopped smiling. This is Chinatsu Ban's first solo museum exhibition, and if you have seen her work, then you'll probably understand the smiles. I have a hard time describing her work.
Every descriptive word I want to use seems inappropriate. She describes her work using the Japanese word kawaii, which literally translates to "cute." However, cute doesn't quite approach the gravity of the adorable nature of her figures, nor does it encompass the complexity of her work. Her subject matter is often dark and macabre, dealing with issues like death and suicide. Yet her paintings and sculptures have an undeniably cute aesthetic. Ice cream cones, poop, and elephants in panties are all recurring images in her paintings and sculpture. The use of this imagery ultimately becomes a safe way for both the artist and the audience to address issues that are so often difficult to deal with.
In her Tuesday Evenings talk with Curator Andrea Karnes, Ban described her work as a way to confront death and other complex themes. The issue of art's being used as a vehicle to deal with the human condition and the associated difficult emotional responses is as old as Aristotle. Aristotle saw dramatic theater as a way to encounter tragedy and from that, to gain insight. Ban's paintings in this exhibition offer the same cathartic response as a dramatic play, only her imagery relies on the kawaii aesthetic, which offers it with a smile.
I think a Mary Poppins quote is entirely appropriate for this discussion: "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down..." Click the image above for some photographs of the installation. All of the paintings were shipped unstretched and had to be stretched here. One of the paintings in the exhibition is almost twenty feet wide and had to be stretched in one of our larger galleries.