Odyssey of the Spirit


It’s hard to find words to express the visceral recognition that you’ll feel when viewing “Metamorphosis: The Transformative Vision of Junko Chodos,” a new exhibit at the Long Beach Museum of Art.

Growing up in Japan during the turmoil of World War II, the young Junko was wracked with inner pain during her formative years. Considered disrespectful, and forbidden to be an artist, Chodos left everything she knew and came to California in the ‘60s. Calling herself a “spiritual refugee,” she was determined to find what Eric Fromm calls “individuation.” The results of this painstaking, arduous search for self-identity, healing and spiritual freedom are deeply felt in the expressionistic paintings, drawings and mixed-media works that fill three LBMA galleries.

Using the root as a powerful, all-embracing metaphor for her journey, Chodos drew exquisite, dramatic versions of this icon throughout the ‘70s. Soon roots were etched in her soul. By the end of the decade, she was incorporating miniscule collaged (sic.) fragments that resemble brush strokes into her compositions.

Suddenly the roots began to look like crab claws and ribcages (which explore suffering and redemption), or burls and Buddhas that merge from one form to another. “Root Series 16, Mandala” and “Root Series 17, Garan (Cathedral)” are such magnificent creations, they take your breath away. Whether choosing to use delicate, controlled lines – or bold, gestural(sic.) brushwork – Chodos was unrelenting in her search for inner self and soul. Finding order and peace within chaos and darkness underscored everything she did. In the ‘80s, Chodos began to add anatomical parts and engines to her multi-media collages. Once again the imagery shifts back and forth from animal to vegetable and mechanical. We think you’ll agree that “Topological Deformation of the Cross No.5” evokes the crucifixion, and “Celestial Curtain No. 1” is a masterpiece. By the ‘90s, Chodos’ paintings begin to resemble the loose, strong, expressionistic brushwork of Willem de Kooning. Comments about the “Requiem for an Executed Bird” alone could fill this review. This particular series embodies the artist’s absolute conviction that art is capable of overcoming pain and redeeming what is lost. Please take time to study it, since the bleeding bird plays such a pivotal part in Chodos’ ongoing quest…To share an artist’s life work is an experience you cannot afford to miss “The Transformative Vision of Junko Chodos” is one of those experiences

- Shirle Gottlieb