Yuri Nonaka takes viewers on a trip through the imagination

by Jeff Hammond

Special To The Japan Times

All things weird and wonderful were loved by the Surrealists and there is plenty of the weird and wonderful in the world of their fellow traveler Yuri Nonaka. The Kamakura Annex of the Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura and Hayama, is currently holding an exhibition showcasing works that were donated to the institution last year by the artist. “Those Beautiful Books” assembles around 120 of her works, which range from 1950s’ tactile copperplate prints of strange organic worlds to turn-of-the-millenium collages reflecting a deepening interest in both outer space and an inner spiritual life.

One early interest of Nonaka was decalcomania, in which images are formed randomly by the blotting of paint or ink between two sheets of paper. A technique much loved by Max Ernst, here Nonaka creates simple, sparse images reminiscent of shells, protein cells or other organisms. The interest in nature — albeit a natural world run amok — continues in the fantastic forests of the yokai (supernatural beings), inhabited by a collage of freaky reptiles, towering plants and friendly butterflies with human heads.

In a number of images, scenes of everyday bourgeois respectability are shattered by some act of chaos — an explosion outside a restaurant on a French street, a meteroite falling among the classical columns of an upscale part of town. Often these scenes, typically black and white silk screens, are made even more unsettling by the inexplicable presence of an oversized, vividly colored flower. This floral motif continues through to her later works, as can be seen in “About the Angels — Fra Angelico (with box),” a collage borrowing some angelic figures from the Early Renaissance artist.

Among this interest in botany, strange animal life and minerals and crystals, the human is not forgotten. It makes its presence felt in several ways — curvilinear forms abstracted into sensual free-flowing almost hilly landscapes; historical figures displaced into bizarre parallel universes, and a fascination with innocence, through colorized reproductions of Lewis Carroll’s photographs of young girls.

One of these images was produced for the cover of a poetry magazine’s special edition on Carroll, which explains the reference to books in the title of the exhibition. In truth, however, few of the images here were used for dust jackets — so the number of such publications on display at the show is modest but well worth a look.

A couple of Nonaka’s collages feature an assemble of figures that loomed large in her intellectual circle in Japan — Andre Breton, Marquis de Sade, Kurt Schwitters. The gesture proclaims her allegiances, but her unique, personal style transcends any influence these forebears may have had on her— Nonaka’s eccentricity is wonderfully all her own.

“Nonaka Yuri: Those Beautiful Books” runs till Sept. 1; open 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. ¥250. Closed Mon. www.moma.pref.kanagawa.jp