Michiko Itatani and Ruth Borgenicht were meant for companionship.
As seen in their respective exhibits, “Cosmic Wanderlust” and “Homesites” at Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art, both artists’ work is warm and enigmatic and has a protective, slightly mysterious vibe.
New Jersey artist Borgenicht’s pedestal-top abstract ceramic sculptures suggest structures such as long houses and cabins. Other wall sculptures, such as “Honey Moon” and “Blue Moon,” look like, well, moons.
Borgenicht makes all of the sculptures out of interlocking salt-fired stoneware rings, glazed in luminous earthy colors. Yet each ring can move independently, allowing pliability in the structures. They can be shaped to be open or rearranged to close in on themselves in a defensive gesture.
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Borgenicht patterns the rings after medieval chainmail, both in form and concept. Yet she is aware of the works’ paradoxical nature.
In her artist’s statement she writes, “Using clay to make a protective mesh is contradictory; for how can it defend anything, much less itself? Visually stone-like, the pieces appear strong and impenetrable, belying their inherent fragility.”
The sculpture, “Homesites,” comprising four individual structures, embodies protection. The rings in each of these four pieces are tightly grouped, so that they give very little suggestion of openness or vulnerability, unlike a looser, larger piece such as “Gabled Long House,” which can be more easily manipulated.
Each piece in Borgenicht’s exhibit feels like it was designed to cleave closely to the other. Maybe it’s how they are arranged on the pedestal, but they need to snuggle together, energy sustaining each other.
Borgenicht’s color palette includes blue-grays, corals and mustard yellow-rust. Each individual ring has areas of matte and glossy glaze and feels very deliberate, singular and absolutely central to the piece’s success. Nothing is random or offhand in this work.
Chicago-based Itatani, who was born in Japan and wanted to be a fiction writer, instead paints cryptic, semi-narrative scenes that emerge from her love of storytelling. At Leedy she shows a series of miniature 5-inch or 6-inch paintings along with larger paintings.
The tiny paintings in gouache, ink and Prismacolor on clay board are seductive as abstract fragments. They are often nocturnal and sometimes carry elements from the larger paintings.
In an artist statement Itatani writes, “My process of art-making starts with gathering various fragments from experiences, events, documents, literature, history, science, myths, customs. I catalogue those fragments, mutate them, make images, and let them interact with each other. It is an act of fusing research, observation, memory and imagination.”
All the paintings have unwieldy titles, such as “Personal Codes, From Waiting Game/Echo 13-K-39.” And the titles are too cryptic to expand the paintings’ meanings.
Itatani paints a circle of light in each of her paintings: is it a presence, a spirit or a communique from beyond? Since no human figures populate the images, the circle of light may function as a sort of disembodied abstract narrator that ties the stories together.
“Cosmic Wanderlust From Hyperbaroque 13-D-7,” filled with books, globes and stars, may illustrate our human impulse to know and understand the universe. Though it’s from 2013, it could also easily capture our delight with the probe Philae, which recently landed on Comet 67P.
In conjunction with the Itatani and Borgenicht exhibits, the gallery is showing two drawings by Amy Myers. Additionally, Jun Kaneko is represented by his ceramic wall sculptures that behave like abstract paintings and by his popular tanuki or trickster figures.
The raccoon-dog tanuki are stylized and irrepressibly adorable. Unlike the monumental tanuki he exhibited in Chicago last year, these are under 3 feet tall, perfect for holiday gift giving. Yes, please.
“Michiko Itatani: Cosmic Wanderlust,” “Ruth Borgenicht: Homesites” and “New Works by Jun Kaneko and Amy Myers” continue at Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art, 2004 Baltimore Ave., through Dec. 20. Hours are 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and by appointment. For more information, 816-221-2626 or SherryLeedy.com.