CHICAGO — Joanne Aono is a Japanese-American artist who makes work that sits somewhere at the intersection of the minimalist tradition of American art and the slightly different minimalism of Japanese culture (more on that below).
When you first walk into the brightly lit Lee E. Dulgar Gallery, where Aono’s work is currently on view, you see wide rows and high columns of graphite marks extending horizontally across clayboard panels, and in one case cascading down a giant scroll of paper that rolls off the wall and over the floor. Some smaller, framed pieces play with splashes of ink and splotches of pigment. If you look closely, you’ll see that each piece has lines of text inscribed into the surface, barely visible until the light hits them a certain way or the graphite rubs over the incisions at certain points. Apparently Aono prepares for her pieces by doing a lot of research, and then she adds key phrases to the surface of the paper. She is one of a pair of twins, so for this body of work she researched the science of twindom and the psychological nature of dualities, divisions, and establishing individuality. Words and phrases from that research can be glimpsed on the work’s surfaces, though not enough to read them extensively.
In response to my questions, the artist had some fascinating things to say about the different layers of the work, particularly the series entitled Hashi:
“’Hashi’ is the Japanese word for what Westerners refer to as chopsticks. It also translates to ‘bridge’, like the pathway formed from the hashi moving food from the bowl to the mouth. Another translation is ‘tip,’ referring to the ends of the hashi that move to grab the morsels. So for many of the drawings I’ve used a process of drawing with two graphite pencils held like hashi, moving each in opposing directions, yet working together. This is a conceptual means reflecting how twins are individual components of a set. In one of the smaller drawings I actually used wooden hashi and dipped the ends into oil paint to draw with.”
These intellectual underpinnings and their influence on the process enrich Aono’s work, but they’re still less important to me than that initial visual impact. Broadly speaking, American minimalism is a reduction of the elements of art in a conscious revolt against other, more maximal forms of it, while Japanese minimalism ultimately derives from the Zen philosophy of simple living, both in one’s conduct and in one’s surroundings. Aono’s exquisite drawings on panel and paper are a compelling mixture of these complementary philosophies.