Jun Kaneko's ceramic work is epic, mysterious, and colorful. Though his surfaces undulate organically, from even a slight distance they appear to be a smooth canvas for the artist's abstract painting. His work also tends to be enormous, and he arranges it in a way where the works create an environment and converse.
Kaneko, who is coming to Memphis to speak at the opening of a show at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens, is probably best known for his "dangos." In Japan, the word means dumpling, although the rounded cylinders, which are often painted with primitive-looking marls, look more like something you might expect to find on Easter Island among the moai. And, speaking of Easter Island's moai sculptures, Kaneko is also known for sculpting enormous ceramic heads and painting them in ways that call to mind 1960s-era op-art.
After graduating from high school in Japan, Kaneko, who had been studying painting and printmaking, decided to attend art school in America. He felt that the Japanese system was too strict and too rigid. And so he left his family to study in California, where he became fast friends with groundbreaking ceramicist Jerry Rothman, who was anything but strict and rigid. Rothman, who had a studio in Long Beach, was part of a rebellious clique of ceramic artists, moving the form far away from its decorative roots. The highly regarded and influential sculptor gave Kaneko a cot in his studio and clay to experiment with new forms. Immediately, Kaneko began transforming a sculptural material into canvases to paint, and two works from that first summer with Rothman were accepted into the 1964 Syracuse ceramics competition.
Art enthusiasts interested in hearing Kaneko discuss the evolution of his process and walking among the dangos and floating heads may do so this week. On Thursday, May 28th, at 5:30 p.m., the artist will present a slideshow and lecture. The exhibit is on display through November 22nd.
Jun Kaneko sculpture at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens May 28th-November 22nd. Dixon.org.