DENVER — A striking tapestry ripples and swells from the gallery wall to illuminate layers of emerald, indigo, and violet hues that appear poised to spill on the floor and engulf the viewer. If Katsushika Hokusai had focused his subject on swirling tide pools instead of “The Great Wave,” it may have felt something like Taiko Chandler‘s “Blue Surge” (2021) in her solo show The Indelible Garden at the Denver Botanic Gardens. Chandler has previously referenced Hokusai’s iconic waves in her series One By One (2021), in which watery claws were achieved with dressmaker pins hammered into the weighted base of a traffic cone. But Hokusai was a ukiyo-e artist and Chandler’s abstractions, textures, and colors are an extension of Japan’s extraordinary printmakers from the 1950s and ’60s that were championed by artists of the Sōsaku-hanga (creative prints) movement. Unlike traditional printmaking models, these 20th-century printmakers acknowledged the individuality and labor of artists — an eloquent example for Chandler who confessed only art, not her home in the United States or her Japanese birthplace, gives her a sense of belonging.

Chandler’s massive monotype “Blue Surge” presents a legion of inky scalloped reverberations on Tyvek, a high-density polyethylene fiber, cut into fish-hooked edges that lunge at space in ways that recall predecessors such as Yoshida Chizuko and her color woodblocks on blind embossing, and Iwami Reika, who conjured the sea repeatedly by printing the character of wood grain, like in “Water and Moon” (1972). Iwami and Yoshida were founding members of the collective known as Joryū Hanga Kyōkai (Women’s Print Association) which first exhibited in Tokyo in 1956. According to research by Portland Art Museum curator Dr. Jeanne Kenmotsu, the society of 25 Japanese artists did not have a unified aesthetic or process, but were outsiders by gender and found kinship in art. Chandler told Hyperallergic her choices intuitively seek movement and any similarities with these known makers is not deliberate, “but more and more I see how much my Japanese cultural identity influences my art.”

James Michener, the author of The Modern Japanese Print, wrote about the end of the ukiyo-e: “Art must move in cycles. There must be continuous interchange.” In Chandler’s extensive series On and On (2018-2021), her designs communicate Monstera leaves and rounded serif shapes in psychedelic colors. The stenciled oil monoprint series also includes cooler palettes and exuberant line work. There is not a hard corner to be found in these visions, yet Chandler carves an uncanny edge to her unique fusion of Op Art, bold abstraction, and the voices of the Joryū Hanga Kyōkai. Like the waves, art movements are both circular and never the same upon return.

Taiko Chandler, “On and On #18” (2018), oil monoprint with stencils (image courtesy the artist)
Taiko Chandler, “On and On #T12020” (2020), oil monoprint diptych with stencils (image courtesy the artist)

The Indelible Garden: Prints by Taiko Chandler continues at Denver Botanic Garden (1007 York Street, Denver) through April 3, 2022. The exhibition was curated by Lisa Eldred.

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Kealey Boyd

Kealey Boyd is an art historian and writer based in Denver.

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