Review, Frank Satogata at Xavier University Art Gallery
~ Jane Durell
The surest antidote to a bleak winter day could be the joyous exhibition of paintings and prints by Frank Satogata at the Xavier University Art Gallery now through February 15.
Satogata loves color as surely as Romeo loved Juliet, but with happier consequences. He is a meticulous and inventive painter – two qualities not always linked – and his works feed into each other in ways only an exhibition can explore. This exhibition, thoughtfully hung, allows such exploration.
Paintings on the long wall facing the entrance to the room first engulf the visitor. They are landscapes, mostly horizontal but picked out by a couple of verticals set at intervals. The largest work – “Color Field” is its slyly tongue-in-cheek title – has the central position and is the first to hold attention, but is in fact a summation of its neighbors. The line seems to me to read from right to left, after a first look at “Color Field” where you get an idea of what’s going on, and returning there after assimilating the others.
“River’s Edge” at far right begins things by fooling you. From a little distance it looks to be the most naturalistic, a woodland waterway illuminated by one patch of brilliant light, but the closer one comes the more it dissolves into color for its own sake. Other horizontal paintings on this wall take these ideas and play with them; the verticals rise from dark lower areas to greens and blues above, one of them strongly suggesting a tree silhouetted against the sky. Acrylic and oil pastels comprise the media for most; they are on canvas except perhaps one on board. By the time the eye has reached the horizontal work at far left color has just about taken over as subject matter.
In the center of all this. “Color Field” (mixed media on canvas) presents a horizon line and definable sky but surprisingly is pasted here and there with small squares of flat color, like paint samples. I believe only one of the other paintings on this wall carries any of these, and to underline the sense that This Is About Painting the surface of “Color Field” also is flecked by dots of pure white. It’s a pleasure to take advantage of the bench in the middle of the gallery and let the eye move from one to another of the paintings on this wall.
Landscapes, however, are not the only thing on this artist’s mind. “Coral Rose”anchors the left end of another wall showing paintings, with more shades of coral and peach than you knew existed making up a gorgeous bloom of a rose. The flower, so large it seems to overflow its three-quarters of the canvas, appears against a flurry of dark greens to the viewer’s right, the greens filling a space shaped like a tied-back curtain.
Satogata sets the same task for himself in another medium with a white bloom as luxuriously rendered as the coral rose but now one of forty prints. These prints are produced by transferring the image of one of Satogata’s many-layered paintings first to paper then, in a process called dye sublimation, to an aluminum plate. Slim lines of red, orange, even a little blue, give the flower substance and shape. This work appears across the room from “Coral Rose,” along with three other aluminum-based prints. The aluminum surface, slicker and less textured than canvas, is most apparent in dark colors but makes for a different effect for the work as a whole.
Also printed on aluminum by the dye sublimation process are the eight works on the fourth gallery wall. Here Satogata’s ancestry and background are most apparent, although these factors are sure influences on his work at large. Born in Hawaii of Japanese parentage, he has both the western sense of illusion-creation and the eastern delight in gesture itself. These scroll-shaped works, originally acrylic and oil pastel on canvas or board, are each from runs of forty prints. The color is vibrant – reds, lavenders, young leaf green, sea-side blue – but calligraphic-like strokes are the dominant element.
The seemingly spontaneous exuberance of Satogata’s work belies the care that goes into it. His paintings, as finished works or as the basis of prints, are densely layered and replete with interactions of both form and color. In an interview that appeared last summer he told The Artist’s Magazine “In embracing two parallel worlds, my paintings intend to bridge the gap between subject-oriented and non-objective paintings. My personal calligraphy is the primary focus, the thread that’s consistent throughout the work.”
For those unfamiliar with the busy Xavier campus: the Art Gallery is in the A.B. Cohen Center, 1658 Herald Avenue, beyond the Cintas Center and to the right, almost invisible from Herald Avenue. Hours are 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. A closing reception, open to the public, will be held the final day of the exhibition, February 15, from 6 to 8 p.m.. For further information call 513-745-3811.