Turning heads at Windgate Art and Design

As you enter the south entrance of the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith Windgate Art and Design building and round the corner, you will find two cast bronze heads installed, facing each other. Complimenting one another, the back of each head is a different color and made up of enamel paint. One head is painted red, while the other is painted blue with no features.

Like this installation, most of Jun Kanekos works are untitled, which creates a forced direct observation of each work of art, enhancing visual engagement.

When asked what UAFS art student Chris Releford thought of Untitled Heads, he said, “Sometimes, I get a feeling of self-reflection, or maybe facing something that refuses to acknowledge you. I want to know what it’s about.”

Jun Kaneko was born in Nagoya, Japan, in 1942 at the peak of World War II. Nagoya was an industrial city, which produced a large portion of Japan’s combat aircraft, targeted by the United States Air Force. His home was destroyed in one of the attacks, forcing Jun to go live with his grandparents in the mountains, where he would have to walk 45 minutes to school. Jun did not like school and as a teenager eventually refused to attend school, and instead began painting and drawing.

Having never spoken the English language, Jun was 21 when he moved to the United States in 1963 to study at Chouinard Art Institute. He was then introduced to ceramics collectors, Fred and Mary Marer, who greatly contributed to him developing an interest in sculptural ceramics. They invited him to stay at their home and acquainted him with the American culture.

Jun moved back to Japan for a brief time. Because he had left at a young age, he did not know much about Japan. He opened up a studio and worked on exhibitions before he decided he did not want to settle where he had grown up.

Today, Kaneko works from a studio in Omaha, Neb., and he has works of art located in over 40 museum collections. He is well-known for sculpting on a monumental scale, with forms such as these gigantic simplified heads being a common theme in his work.

“If everything in the world was the same size, we would not need an idea of scale. Nothing exists by itself. Everything is influenced by the other things next to it or close by or the environment which the object is in.”

Kaneko notes that the surroundings in which the work of art is placed has a huge impact on how the work is perceived. That being said, much of his work is inspired by the Shinto concept of Ma, which does not refer to the objects themselves, but rather to the space between and around them. Each work of art has its own needs. The space between works like Untitled Heads, contributes to the displays overall space. Without boundaries Kaneko continues to challenge the inherent limitations of clay, glass, bronze and paint, by learning through experimentation.

This column is produced by the River Valley Arts Coalition, whose mission is to inform citizens and visitors of the available fine art exhibition and education opportunities in Fort Smith and surrounding region. We also want to tell the stories of the people who make the local art scene such a vibrant and important part of our community. To send comments or for more information on the River Valley Arts Coalition contact lmeluso@fsram.org.