If you haven’t already realized, Tacoma is a hotbed of sumi-e painting – and the latest show at Flow Gallery and Studios underlines the inventiveness of local artists to expand this traditional Asian brush-art with all kinds of new techniques and styles. It’s a mini-retrospective of the work of Fumiko Kimura, a renowned sumi-e artist, teacher and co-founder of the Puget Sound Sumi Artists Association, who learned her art growing up in Japan but who takes it to new levels with her latest series, “Poetry of Tea Bag Art.”
Tea bags? Yep: those thin paper bags, emptied of leaves but stained ochre by them, bring sumi-e into the 3D world of collage and open up new avenues of form in the world of curvy brushstrokes. Kimura places them thoughtfully into small works (created this year and displayed in the back of the gallery) where the black sumi ink is used more like a pencil to create sketches of people, places, things. In “Peggy’s Ukelele” a female mouse is bent happily over her instrument, the ink-dot notes wafting up into birds that fly through a tea-bag window into a drifting sky. “City of Destiny” fits a dreamy Tacoma skyline underneath a just-visible Mt. Rainier in gray ink, all over a tea-bag square. The effect is veil-like, transforming a landscape into a vision of the future, or a dream, mixed with Japanese and English calligraphy like layered annotations of meaning.
Up front, visible from the street when the tiny Flow isn’t open, the show stretches from 1990-2005 across medium and large works, and styles from abstract to almost expressionist. In the “Microcosm” series huge puffballs of gray ink float in a watery universe, sprouting black tendrils and bubbles of glittery gold, blue and red, like a puddle ecosystem. In the “Primal Force” series Kimura uses big blasts of black ink and color washing over the canvas in a kind of feminine expressionism.
For a small space, it’s a big show, and is a tribute to this artist’s inventiveness with a technique that is both inherently simple and philosophically complex.
Kimura’s mini-retrospective, including “Poetry of Tea Bag Art,” runs at Flow through February, 2013. Open by appointment and 5-8 p.m. third Thursdays, also 2-4 p.m. Dec. 8. Free. Flow Gallery, 301A Puyallup Ave., Tacoma. 253-255-4675