In 1981, Etsuko Tashima (b.1959) completed the postgraduate ceramic course of Osaka University of Arts, where she is now professor. Her graduation work, “Censored” (1981), was a series of legs cast from her own body and arranged so that they appeared to grow out of the ground. Attaching breasts to cups and making suggestive, sexual openings in her ceramic forms, she came to be heralded in the mid-’80s as one of the “super girls in fine art” — women artists who were associated with a wider feminist impulse in society after the inking of the Equal Employment Opportunity Law of 1986.
Her early works were large-scale, pop-art pieces, flush with manifest sexuality. Her protruding phalluses and bottoms, all done in acerbic colors, such as in “Hip Garden” (1986), were in many ways a hard take on Yayoi Kusama’s “soft sculptures” of the same era. But it is to Mutsuo Yanagihara (b.1934), a follower of the influential 20th-century ceramic artist Kenkichi Tomimoto (1886-1963), that Tashima owes her initial creative direction. Yanagihara’s brilliantly colored works in polka dots became Tashima’s early stylistic predilection.
Her subsequent development took a turn to what might almost be described as art deco in “Floral No. 2” (1990), with its swirls and leaf patterns, and then to a brief period of geometry in the mid-’90s, using mechanical forms resembling cogs and hard-edged basic geometric structures, like that of “Sanctuary” (1994).
Around the same time, she began titling her works “Cornucopia,” signifying the laden fruit basket — prosperity and fertility. Several of these works were inspired by Tomimoto pieces in the collection of the Ohara Museum of Art and so nod to the ceramic lineage she emerged from.
Since the outset, Tashima has been concerned with floral motifs and the theme continues in this present exhibition, “Etsuko Tashima: Flowers” at the imura art gallery, Kyoto — her first exhibition in five years. The motif is coincident with the arrival of spring and the individual works, “Flowers 1-14” (2012), are grouped together as an installation of floral profusion. “Cornucopia 05-VI” (2005), with arching white petals and a purple bloom in the center, is also on display.
Tashima has combined ceramic and glass materials since 1993 and she continues to do so here with sail-like glass petal forms inserted into pollen-yellow ceramic supports, the soft color of which has held a certain attraction for the artist since 2007. While ceramic glazes are usually a type of glass, or “skin” as the artist puts it, her chosen sculptural material here is highly specific. Recycled from fluorescent light bulbs — because there are fewer impurities and imperfections when that type of glass is recast — the material yields an opaque structural element that radiates a subtle blue-green luminosity.
Other works such as “Flowers A, B and C” (2012) and “Flowers” (2012) are small-scale ceramics, to be hung on the wall, that portray similar organic forms in glass and yellow-glazed clay. From youthful, overt sexuality, Yashima’s current work seen here seizes intimacy.
“Etsuko Tashima: Flowers” at the imura art gallery, Kyoto, runs till April 21; open 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Free admission. Closed Mon. and Sun. www.imuraart.com/en.html.