Iku Nagai: Personal Mythology

Aug 13, 2022 to Oct 30, 2022

A series paying homage to Chōjū-giga style animal caricatures is a focus of our exhibition created by the late Japanese-American and Bay Area artist, Ikuku (Iku) Nagai. Her stylized drawings, chiefly of rabbits and frogs acting as humans, tell both humorous and serious stories of heroes, villains and those in between. The original scrolls or Chōjū-giga, short for Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga (literally "Caricatures of Animals and Humans”) were created by the artist-monk known as Toba Sojo and belong to Kōzan-ji temple in Kyoto, Japan. They date from the mid-12th to mid-13th centuries and are a Japanese national treasure. The free and cheerful style of drawing evident in the scrolls is considered to be the origin of manga, modern comics and animation.

Additional prints are from Nagai's Anecdote Series, speaking to social and psychological issues and inspiring belief in the power and continuity of nature. The artist uses animals, birds and mountains to convey messages of social upheaval and hope, overlaying them with rainbow-colored concentric circles and ancient symbols. 

Although most of the artwork in this show are prints, nearly all are unique, not created in editions. The drawings have the appearance of pen-and-ink, but they are actually drawn with very fine brushes. 

Nagai also experimented with her own style of European cubism, seen in this show in two paintings.

The artist used multiple techniques to produce her art: gold and silver leaf, watercolor, etching, drawing, monotype, woodblock, monoprint, chine colle and painting in mineral pigments she ground herself.

Iku Nagai was born in Kyoto, Japan, and trained in traditional Japanese painting. She met her Japanese-American husband Masaaki in Japan and they settled in San Mateo in 1975. Here in the Bay Area, Nagai was exposed to European and American modern art, earning both her BFA and MFA at San Jose State.

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