Chi Fuike belongs to a very small group of artists whose work is guided by three radically different cultures: Japan, Brazil and the United States. This is because she was born in Yokohama, Japan, grew up in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and immigrated to the United States, where she earned a BFA from Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida, and an MFA from Yale University. Without knowing much about her, it seems to me that she lived in four different regions and is able to speak three languages. The reason I mention Fueki’s background is that, since her first solo exhibition in 2002, she has been quietly creating a unique collection of mind-bending stunts that never quite fit in the New York art world, which is ruled by a whole bunch of unadvertisers. Conventions, such as the legacy of minimalism and a distrust of craft and ornamentation.
One of the 15 recipients of the Joan Mitchell Fellowship (2021), this is the statement Fueki made on her website:
My painting practice revolves around depicting shapes, symbols, and abstract spaces using multi-layered surfaces and color spheres. I mix visual languages and culturally encoded images drawn from my experience growing up in a traditionally oriented Japanese community in São Paulo, Brazil.
In her first solo exhibition, Chi Fuike: You and me, in DC More Gallery (January 7 – February 12, 2022), artist displays five large images drawn in acrylic and mixed media on wood-mounted mulberry paper. Collage, painting, and decorating are just some of the materials and processes Fueki uses. The result is a layered work that – despite all your best efforts – still feels airy and open.
In the press release, she described her work in more detail:
I consider myself a polyglot painter interested in Eastern and Western perspective systems, architectural drawings, pop animation, pre-Renaissance European painting, and prolific color.
Fueki’s art clearly resists the limitations of Western painting, starting with her work on paper, which she installs on wood, as well as her use of different culturally encoded imagery and perspective systems. In this regard, she shares something with other Asian American artists working on paper in innovative ways, Juha Moon and Tami Nguyen. Fueki’s use of paper, paint, and collage culminates in both a compact surface and a complex space, where decorative and unreal color play important roles. With radiant lines of works, patterns, and evoking fields of force, often done in what she calls “bombing colours,” the effects are astounding.
One of the first things I notice about these photos is that the only visible face is a reflection in the mirror in “Finally Bridget” (2021), which depicts a friend of the artist after moving in. The fact that we only see the subject’s reflection conveys something about Fueki’s approach: it is always indirect or from an unexpected angle, as in “Kyle (High Fidelity)” (2021), whose subject we see from behind, seated and wearing headphones. Fueki works in what I would call a state of imaginative remembrance, with a heightened sense of reality. She is equally concerned with the environment in which her subject or subjects are located, as she does not seem to believe that the portrait is limited to the appearance of the person, which is the hallmark of Western portraiture.
The subject of “Catherine” (2021) is illustrator Catherine Murphy, who was Fueki’s teacher at Yale University and has since befriended. As someone who has written about Murphy many times over the years, including her most recent show, and who wrote the first monograph on her work, this sketch has pleased me doubly. Fueki can create a number of symbols and images inspired by Murphy’s work without making viewers feel they need to know the source.
We see a cropped view of Murphy in profile; Her head is a blue semicircle extending from the right edge, while her arm is made of four different sized gray geometric shapes, one of which appears to have been bitten, leaving a large jagged slit on the lower edge of her forearm. While these shapes can be seen as a nod to Murphy’s interest in geometry, they also function as solid shapes that are part of the composition’s blend of patterns, lines, and signs. Fueki’s use of lines and dots gives the paintings varying states of high visual.
The artist holds a brush and paints the left edge of the canvas, as if it were a flat surface. Above the hand we see the name CATHY backwards, a reference to Murphy’s painting “Cathy” (2001), in which she “wrote” her name backwards on a vapor window in winter. At the same time, the inverse name calls into question the logic of the image plane, as the name appears to be floating, suggesting that the layering space for this work is not purely physical. This sense of spatial ambiguity is emphasized by the radiant lines in the saw-tooth figures placed in different parts of the composition. Are they signs of force fields and visual representations of an otherwise unseen world?
Fueki makes slow boards. They are layers of images ranging from figurative to abstract (patterns and geometric shapes) to signs (points and lines). In Brides (Hillary and Ara) (2021), the Earth changes from a porous red in the upper half to a mysterious surface below. By making the pictorial space fuzzy, the distinct, detailed shapes you glue to the support appear to float, something we don’t usually see in work that includes collage. Besides its innovative use of collage and embroidery, another distinguishing feature of the work is the cut out of distinctly shaped translucent spheres of different colors whose surfaces are outlined by ornamental and allusive motifs, suggestive of lace embroidery. And if that’s not enough to absorb, what are we to make of the black cat trotting across the lower third of the board or the butterflies seen all along?
In the world of Fueki, solid and ephemeral matter can seem indistinguishable from each other. Near the top of “The Brides (Hillary and Ara)” are two circles outlined below a solid red semi-circle cropped with a dark red heart at what we consider its center. White streaks radiate from the sun-like orb, which is located on a violet-pink ground. Do the white lines represent the sun’s rays or the presence of divine light? What about the heart? At the same time that we see the white lines as an evocation of light, they also function solemnly, as they reflect the networks of inclined planes extending from the right and left side of the painting, sculpting a resting space for the newlyweds. Brides (Hilary and Ara) are ethereal, modest, mystical, playful, and symbolic.
While Fueki’s composition appears to be inspired by Jan van Eyck’s “The Arnolfini Wedding” (1434), it has also systematically replaced all previous symbols with its own, beginning with the cat that replaced the early breed of Griffon Bruxellois seen at the couple’s feet in Van Eyck. This precision is a feature of the Fueki approach. No matter how busy or dense the layers of her paintings, nothing seems strange or unimportant. In the time of manufacturing and outsourcing, their hands-on approach may seem old-fashioned, but it would be a mistake to think so. It is my pleasure to make the rings a reality in all of her business. At the same time, radical, dignified and sparkling, Fueki’s breakdown together from work and pleasure challenges the mainstream’s preoccupation with cascading entertainment and the self-portraits she records.
Chi Fuike: You and me It runs at the DC Moore Gallery (535 West 22nd Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) through February 12th.
email@example.com. The content will be deleted within 24 hours.