Miyoko Ito in Chicago, 2021

There is a wonderfully restrained, diverse group show up at Tiger Strikes Asteroid through December 11, 2021. I was able to swing by to see the work on November 6th and take the photographs posted here. If you’re in the area you should go as well. The exhibition has a website with a lot of additional information here.

Below are some photos I took while in the space for roughly an hour. I was there alone. It was an amazing experience to be with Ito’s work again after so long. Previously I had seen it while living in the Chicagoland area in the late 90s and early 2000s (I earned my BFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2001).

These images above are details of an untitled work left incomplete when she died. Miyoko Ito. Untitled, graphite and oil on canvas, unfinished. 1983.

It was wonderful to see this unfinished work. It reveals much about Ito’s late working methods, making the way she approached the development of composition, mark, and surface apparent. Her effort to manifest both deliberative control and extemporaneous invention feels clear here in this piece; it functions as a kind of key to help decipher certain aspects of the complete works. It really surprised and delighted me, and made me re-think how I had understood her work previously.

The presentation and lighting of these works really allowed for close viewing. See the details below (click on each to open to full size) to see more of Ito’s surface and mark quality.


Detail of Miyoko Ito – 1948. Oil on canvas; 22 x 30 in. 1978.

I love the translucency of the color gradients in 1948.. As with all of her mature work, Ito maintains the original charcoal marks while also methodically, and with dedicated gracefulness, produces dense swaths of interrelated color. There is a feeling of epochal time here, slow and calm; almost beyond human.

Detail of Miyoko Ito – Tanima or Claude M. Nutt. Oil on canvas, 45×32 in. 1974.

In many ways Miyoko Ito is a conductor of visual dynamics. She finds elements that lock or pinch, such as the simple geometries of circles or triangles (as seen in the detail above). These are almost always staged in linear structures that rise from the very base layers, tuned by charcoal and adjoining brush marks.

Detail of Miyoko Ito – The Ken. Oil on canvas; 46 x 34 in. 1976.

One of the most special moments of the show for me was catching a glimpse of a little smeared mark in The Ken. It feels to me as if Ito has reached out with her pinkie finger to flick that earthy red, dissipating it into the surrounding field of neutral grayish-tan.

Another wonderful moment in this painting is show in the detail below. The spatial interplay between the gray-blue ribbon/band form and the red-orange rectilinear box shape is astounding. The choreography taking place here is so precise and poetic, and the eye bends and twists around the piece, flipping from surface to space to, from edge to texture. Miyoko Ito leads us in an unnameable spatio-temporal dance.

Detail of Miyoko Ito – The Ken. Oil on canvas; 46 x 34 in. 1976.

These moments all seem like intimate disclosures. Miyoko Ito still speaks, even as we approach 40 years since her death. The work of curators like Nicole Mauser and Jordan Stein has done much toward keeping the legacy and influence of Ito alive. I still resonate with that day more than 23 years ago when I first saw Ito’s work hanging at the Roger Brown Study Collection. It was nice to experience that reverie once again at this excellent exhibition.

2 thoughts on “Miyoko Ito in Chicago, 2021

  1. My oh my. Matthew I did not know just how important this woman artist is to you. Your words go far beyond any scholarly investigation. There is something very personal in your choice of words. You have been moved by this woman’s spirit. It is good that I was not with you. It was best that you were alone and alone with her paintings for your hour of communion. I would have been in your way. I’d have asked questions interfering with your co-mingling. Then you bother to bring us right in touch with her very brush strokes. I can not hear her speak but the photograph of the dynamic of her stroke makes me believe I might. Nicely done Professor. I also particularly liked how in a few of the early pictures of her work you included more than just her paintings framed. You shot at long angles creating your own perspectives. Possibly as examples of what you are saying. I am not sure but there is no question that once you are speaking of Ito herself, her approach, her quality of brush stroke, there is nothing there to distract us. Only Ito herself an old woman her whole story still not told. One canvas left there on the easel her last shot at clarity, speak slowly and clearly. Ballou has got his Ear Buds in!? No fair, they break the physical boundaries between the canvas and the pallet. Even the untouched pallet straight from its box will lean towards the framed canvas before leaning away. It’s something we deal with every day. BALLOU’s got Buds. Signs in every yard, Ballou’s got Buds. Ito inching within the infinite. Ear Buds. Nope. Raw talent, on the hoof and from across the Ocean 🌊. What are you guys doing for Thanks Giving? Nancy and I are going to drive up to Milwaukee, Whitefish Bay, really to have Turkey Turkey with my sister and Jack. Jack is a real life American Cooking School genius. He has cheffed, taught and written. P,us he’s the nicest guy on earth and can cook an entire ThanksGiving spread, soup to nuts without ever even seeming to break a sweat. Never a mess anywhere anyhow. I do not know how to cook nearly as good as Jack. I am good in a kitchen, I read a lot of the same recipes written ten different ways. But Jack actually KNOWS what he is doing. Jack can do real butchery too. I watched him dismantle a deer carcass a few years ago. Never so much as a Nick on an internal organ. He clipped two little nothings on either side of the chest cavity and the whole insides just rolled right out. No mess at all. Bowel and bladder blissfully undamaged

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