Art Insider Feb. 25: Migrants in watercolor, an ikebana master, and bold portraits

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Portraits by Sandy Rodriguez at Charlie James Gallery. Image courtesy of the artist and Charlie James Gallery. Photo: Michael Underwood.

This week, color plays a vital role in paintings, ikebana, and indigenous pigments.

Sandy Rodriguez at Charlie James Gallery


Sandy Rodriguez’s exhibit at Charlie James Gallery. Image courtesy of the artist and Charlie James Gallery. Photo: Michael Underwood.

In Chinatown, Sandy Rodriguez’s solo exhibition honors the seven child migrants who died while in custody of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection between 2018 and 2019. Each child has been rendered in a loving watercolor portrait, made with indigenous materials (she uses hand-processed watercolors and a ceremonial handmade bark paper). 

The exhibition traces these children’s border crossings via a large hand-painted map that pinpoints various events, flora, and fauna along their route. 

The exhibit also depicts ingredients for a 16-century indigenous recipe used to treat trauma. Several works on paper feature medicinal plants from the Codex de la Cruz-Badiano — a medical manuscript written by an indigenous doctor — that Rodriguez pairs with portraits of healers and collaborators whom she interacted with during her research. 

The exhibition not only exposes the humanitarian crisis happening now at our borders, but it offers space as well as a potential approach to healing deep traumas.


Sandy Rodriguez’s art materials at Charlie James Gallery. Image
courtesy of the artist and Charlie James Gallery. Photo: Michael Underwood. 

All of Rodriguez’s pigments are naturally derived from fauna, insects, and minerals sourced in the American Southwest and Mexico. Each has a specific meaning and history that Rodriguez uses intentionally.

In a catalog for the recent COLA (City of Los Angeles) exhibition at LA Municipal Art Gallery, Rodriguez explained her use of natural pigments: “Walnut ink, which I use to create my brown lines, derives from a large, edible deciduous tree that is native to the region and is connected to healing and artistic practice … Red is from an insect dye: cochineal. It is a translucent red that references the solar and terrestrial realm. It signifies Mexicanidad and bloodline. Mayan Blue, Mayan Green and Mayan Yellow represent the fusing of both the solar realm and underworld referencing creation itself. I use the Mayan colors to stand in for the Central American and Mexican communities that have been targeted by the current administration.” 

On view: January 25 – March 7, 2020
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Sofu Teshigahara at Nonaka-Hill


Sofu Teshigara’s exhibit at Nokaka-Hill. Image courtesy of Nonaka-Hill, Los Angeles.

A beautifully calming space has been erected at Nonaka-Hill in Hollywood. As if to create an outdoor space inside the gallery, the walls are painted in a deeply-hued blue, and gravel rocks are installed. 

The exhibition celebrates the work of Sofu Teshigahara, an influential teacher and leader in the avant-garde ikebana movement in Japan, who founded the Sogetsu School of Ikebana. Ikebana is the Japanese art of flower arrangement.

Since much of the artist’s works were plant-based and ephemeral, this exhibition highlights a series of sculptures made of metal sheets formed around wooden bases. The sculptures are playful and minimal, with the right amount of irreverence. Bodily forms abruptly sprout out of otherwise organic and abstract structures. 

These sculptures are flanked in the gallery by the ikebana work of Kaz Yokou Kitajima, a former student of Teshigahara. Kitajima’s ikebana is spry and playful, forming bold lines of fronds that are met with little colorful floral puffs. 

As a whole, the exhibition is a tender homage to an influential teacher, while acting as an enticing space that forces the viewer to slow down. 

On view: February 8 – March 28, 2020
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Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe at Roberts Projects


Lady on Blue Couch, 2019. Oil on canvas, 48 x 36 in (121.9 x 91.4 cm). Image courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, CA. Photo: Robert Wedemeyer.

In his first U.S. exhibition, Ghanaian artist Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe has no problem grabbing our attention. His colorful painted portraits are big, bold, and tenderly painted. In most works, Quaicoe’s subjects stare back at the viewer, amidst a backdrop of shocking color choices like bright teal, hot orange, muted lavender, or muddy seafoam. 

Two portraits, of fellow Ghanaian painters Amoako Boafo and Kwesi Botchway, are set against a gentle baby pink, the color offering a fragility that contrasts the masculine postures of each. 

Elsewhere, the color choices pull loudly, as in Orange Turtleneck, wherein the subject is styled with tasteful piercings, shades, a beret, and the titular sweater against a matching orange-peel-colored wall.

In each, the personhood of the subject is unapologetically apparent, emotions that often lie beneath the surface, given space to emerge. 

On view: January 11 – March 7, 2020
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