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[whitespace] Unerring Eye

Whatever the medium, Howard Ikemoto makes the truth shimmer

By Julia Chiapella

HOWARD IKEMOTO doesn't like to restrain himself. The Cabrillo College art instructor has worked in all media and followed his impulse to a host of subjects. It's a style that is never compromised and continually inventive, though it does have its anchor points. "I like the idea of rhythm and movement," Ikemoto says, "identity through marks."

Those marks are easily spotted in Ikemoto's work, whether it's his large floral pieces or smaller landscapes. The fluid sway of color is never indifferent or halfhearted. Currently preparing four pieces for inclusion in a three-person exhibition at Cabrillo Gallery, Ikemoto has again turned to abstracts. And in the manner of Willem de Kooning, his brush strokes are broad swaths of color balanced by a delicacy that is disarming. Whether he is painting the landscape of Harkin or Elkhorn sloughs or capturing the desolation of a Japanese internment camp, Ikemoto's work has an unexpectedly tender power, one that broaches the vicious.

"He uses his unerring eye and experience to set down the truth and make it shimmer," says Kathleen Moodie, curator of art at the Museum of Art and History in Santa Cruz. That eye, it seems, has an unerring capacity for assessment. And together with Ikemoto's penchant for considering and reconsidering a subject, his work is always exploring new areas with fervor and intelligence.

Colleague Robynn Smith remembers that when she first saw Ikemoto's work he happened to be painting horses. Smith herself is an avid horse rider who once competed. Horses are her milieu. What so impressed her about Ikemoto's own drawings was that, despite his relative unfamiliarity with horses, he had expertly captured their essence. "One of the things that amazed me," Smith says, "was how much he knew horses, and yet I found out that he doesn't spend any time with horses at all. He was just in one of these phases where he was expressing a deep aesthetic response, something he brings to everything he does."

But that aesthetic response is careful not to take itself too seriously. Ikemoto draws constantly and some of those drawings don't hesitate to use self-parody as subject. They may not be pieces that find their ways into galleries, but as Ikemoto says, "Things that are whimsical are just as important as the things that are more time consuming." Having shown in museums and galleries in San Francisco, San Jose and Sacramento, and having garnered attention with his solo show Chi, A Family Divided, Ikemoto has successfully balanced the roles of teacher and artist, achieving stature as an expert in both. It's no surprise when, asked who his influences are, he responds, "in art or in teaching?" Howard Ikemoto gives every undertaking his complete attention.

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From the November 15-22, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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