The Way of Ku

If art is a means of articulation, consider artist  Fay Ku fluent. Double Entendre, her solo exhibition at  Eight Modern in Santa Fe, features nine recent works on paper. The majority are drawn and painted in variations of graphite, ink and watercolor. Two of the pieces are lithographs, the breathtaking results of Ku’s November residency at the  Tamarind Institute in Albuquerque. Altogether, the collection communicates incongruous concepts—purity/eroticism, solitude/association, fulfillment/affliction, elegance/disgrace——as balancing counterparts.

The beauty of Ku’s aesthetic is startling, as are the nature of her subjects and the acts she depicts. At first, it feels as though these elements—like the concepts Ku deals with—are inherently at odds with one another. But as one engages the work, it becomes clear that any initial bewilderment comes not from a sense of conflict, but from an unusual sense of equilibrium.

In “Fish Sticks,” three androgynous boys perform provocative deeds with members of the Pisces class as tools. Rendered in graphite, watercolor and ink on paper, each boy conveys a distinct emotion—disdain, jubilance and inhibition. There is a matter-of-factness to the piece, in Ku’s technique and presentation, that leaves it free of indictment. Though their expressions suggest maturity, the actors are children and therefore endowed with innocence. They are mischievous, to be sure, but they are not guilty. Indeed, something about their experimentation seems universal, a representation of our collective and constant cycle of regression and evolution.

Ku’s characters are archetypes, embodiments of those incongruous concepts that exist within us.

Ku achieves parity between subject and style. In “Sea Bed,” the protagonist is a woman, a character who appears starkly modern. She is nude, swathed by the bed of fish on which she lies. Her visible ear reveals multiple piercings; nearly every appendage bears a ring or bracelet. Her face and form betray a distinctly contemporary indifference. Yet the style—the singular focus of the composition and the fluidity of Ku’s pencil- and brush-strokes—brings to mind traditional Chinese scroll painting. Through this particular fusing of imagery and aesthetic, Ku causes a reverberation within the viewer; it’s exquisite and memorable.

Prior to her November residency at Tamarind, the Brooklyn-based Ku noted that her work would likely “lend itself quite well to printmaking.” As it turns out, the translation is stunning. The product of two weeks’ collaboration with Master Printer Bill Lagattuta, Ku’s premier lithographs seem a natural and vibrant extension of her previous works on paper. The editions of “Sea Change” and “Mermaid in Flight,” both of which debut at Double Entendre, are comprised of 20 numbered (salable) impressions each. These works represent an arduous, but profoundly productive, two weeks in Albuquerque.

“Mermaid in Flight” is especially fantastic. Ku’s customary characters are present—human, bird, fish—in this illustration of an ethereal but wretched maiden with wings of peacock feathers, a tail of fish scales and the halo of a heavenly being. “Mermaid in Flight” is an ornately designed, five-color image with a silver leaf overlay. Lithography is a process of meticulous standards, requiring the expertise and precision of a printer like Laguttuta. After he completed the chemical transfer of Ku’s original image to a stone plate, Lagattuta inked and printed each color individually—registering the plate to the paper exactly, each and every time, for all of the impressions in the edition. Ku and Lagattuta’s partnership is rooted in each artist’s mastery of his and her form, and it’s apparent; “Mermaid in Flight” and “Sea Change” are masterpieces.

The scope of Double Entendre—relatively limited at nine works—is due to Ku’s participation in numerous current exhibitions; the artist’s ubiquity means that her available portfolio is restricted. But this isn’t a bad thing. We are permitted to focus on each piece, to observe the relationships between them and the deviations among them, to reflect on the artist’s meaning and to establish our perspective on the work.

Ku’s characters are archetypes, embodiments of those incongruous concepts that exist within us. After emigrating from Taiwan to America at age 3, Ku grew up in a world where her familial heritage and cultural surroundings often clashed. Though this circumstance was personally isolating (by the artist’s description), it might well be responsible for her work’s intense resonation. Ku demonstrates a formidable insight into the human condition—one in which, ultimately, we are solitary beings defined by disparate influences. Luckily, her remarkable talent can handle the task of communicating this experience, allowing everyone to take part.