Junko Chodos at the Long Beach Museum of Art



Enter the room in which most of the work hangs. On the far wall, a triptych, just like in the patroned Renaissance days. In form, religious. In content, falling between piety and exorcism. Two smaller canvases - small is relative, all three are large – frame the larger one. Three artistic references pop to mind. Marcel Duchamp, with his Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, a schematic of the various engines of love. Francis Bacon, his conception of flesh as the arena of titanic struggle. Hieronymous Bosch, his multiplicity of human and divine chaos (read flux) in The Garden of Earthly Delights. All three apply to this triptych, a cosmological diagram of carnal and conceptual love. Flesh becomes spirit, and the process laid bare.

Junko Chodos calls this piece Esoteric Buddhism Series (2001, mixed-media collage on film mounted on Mylar). Numbers 1, 2 and 3 represent birth, ecstasy and death. Number 2, Ecstasy, churns like a heart biomorphed into a motor. Patches of silver and red roil with exuberance like flayed skin in a centrifuge. The piece begs to be experienced up close and then at a distance, like de Kooning’s “slipping glimpser.” The large form that brackets the centrifugal force, that houses the image of an engine, appears to be a torso, but a human torso? In place o flesh are feathers, bird’s wings. The cavity is a chest cavity with the ribs separated like something out of E.R. No head, but an engine. But unlike Oz’s Tin Man, this one has a heart. It is born out by a quotation from a Buddhist sutra, The Rishukyo that refers to sexual ecstasy at the bodhisattva level. The piece, then, refers not just to primacy of place given to sexuality as an experience in itself (the furnace), but also to generation (birth, an oven), as well as to degeneration (death, a sepulcher, decomposition, rotting flesh). Birth shows a similar configuration, a conflagration, with a fallopian tube. Death, amidst the swirl, shows a spectral head out of Bacon’s Pope series.

Besides this larger piece, the show features other work that charts the development of forms and themes of the magisterial Esoteric Buddhism Series. Relic is a finely wrought waif of a rib cage (this one has not been pried open, as if the time was not nigh to bare the soul). We read that the piece refers to tuberculosis that the artist suffered as a youth. It also recalls the ribs of a strung-out Jesus Christ on the Cross. Indeed, Chodos was shocked at the sight of a Crucifixion as a youngster in her room. Even at this date, nascent themes emerge: an ever-present tension between human flesh and spirit, which takes the form of the thing-ness materiality of these works (they must be a preparator’s nightmare) their presence and immanence, their transience and eternity.

Another source for the Esoteric series is Requiem For An Executed Bird, No. 24. The Bird is Dying is one in a series of forty-five paintings that express how the artist felt at the age of four in war-torn Japan upon seeing a dead hen. For the artist, the hen came to symbolize war’s horror, a Bird of Sorrow, similarly crucified, that broaches issues of fate, destiny and preordination.

Esoteric can refer to personal iconography, idiosyncratic, that meshes elements of Buddhism and Christianity, personal experiences forged in extraordinary circumstances, with an awareness of high- and low-tech material culture (in a vitrine [sic.] of inspirations – perhaps votive – objects are a picture of a Harley-Davidson engine, an actual engine of some kind, a large desiccated crab, a gnarled tree branch, deft drawings and a Gateway computer monitor showing other work).

Chodos presents a mature body of work that goes far beyond the personal… Her various manifestations of bird-ness are more universal than those of Max Ernst’s Frodo. She paints time, which is her theme. Time of the here-and-now suffering variety where flesh withers, and time of the hereafter-and-forever variety…