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Ai Yamaguchi
at Roberts & Tilton, Los Angeles

Kimi ga omou hi

Kai soshite watashi wa
Quietly Unburdened
by Eve Wood

Ai Yamaguchi, "Sukutoko," Sept. 6-Oct. 4, 2003, at Roberts & Tilton, 6150 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, Ca. 90048

Imagine a rupture in innocence, and the flinty, often difficult path to reclaim a lost version of some private heaven. In her new work, titled "Sukutoko" (which translated means "place to save"), Ai Yamaguchi tells the tale of a displaced innocence, and the quiet journey toward self-realization.

In the graceful, large-scale mural painted directly onto the walls of the gallery (with some smaller attached, shaped and painted wooden panels), Yamaguchi depicts the fictional world of Touge no Chaya, or the Brothel of the Mountain Pass, set in Edo period (1600-1868 AD).

The mural is populated with a variety of very young courtesans, aged nine or 10, quietly engaged in the act of reclaiming not only their innocence, but their imaginations, symbolized by the burning of incense. The artist herself makes an appearance here. Behind a decorative scrim and exotic fabrics, a girl sits painting her life on the inside of a shell. Another girl looks on furtively, as though realizing somehow that the artist is the keeper of their collective experience.

The exquisitely executed mural, extending the length of the gallery, is a vehicle for beauty and self possession, the place where the artist locates herself. The girls wash themselves and carry small cats in their arms. In keeping with traditional Japanese iconography, these girls have long flowing hair and are dressed in colorful garments of the time. Yamaguchi's line is simple, controlled and elegant.

A 26-year-old who lives in Tokyo, Yamaguchi is one of a number of young artists working today whose vision haunts with beauty, and derives from an interest in sociology and history. Her work comes alive in story, in the boundless narrative carried in a single gesture, and though her work is inspired by history, it is not bound to it completely, but springs from the artist's own personal investment in her subject.

Though the mural is not for sale, works on panel range in price from $1,200 to $5,000, while two large 5 x 10 ft. works on paper are $7,500 each. All are sold.

EVE WOOD is the author of a new book of poetry, Love's Funeral (Cherry Grove Collections, University of Cincinnati).