This week we in the Artstroller clan came barreling down from the mountaintop of a successful art show into a dreary world of cough drops and bubblegum flavored antibiotics. We’ve been sick as dogs. Sunday we were finally well enough to crawl out from under our piles of Kleenex and visit the new installation at Rice Gallery, where Yasuke Asai has slathered the gallery’s walls and floor with a rollicking mural that equally references neolithic cave-painting, cartoon animation, and elementary school science books.
The joyful energy of Asai’s murals might have assaulted our bleary eyes had they not been painted in such subtle tones. His limited palette derives from Houston’s own ‘natural color,’ because Asai uses strictly clay and mud mined from the area. There is a deep bluish gray representing Sugarland, a rosy terra-cotta from Buffalo Bayou, as well as thirteen browns and oranges from Conroe alone. As with any restricted palette, our own perception of these distinctions is heightened. The subtle undertones of green, blue, and orange become more evident in proximity to one another.
The imagery of the mural reflects Asai’s interest in the relationship between terrestrial and subterranean. His undulating waves at times reveal what look like cross-sections of the earth, or a body. Within these cavities are delicate little deer-like or birdlike animals. The whole thing practically writhes with the bodies, claws, and eyes of creatures. This rich, organic tapestry oozes onto the floor, with openings for viewers to insert themselves into, so that we can literally see ourselves as part of this continuum.
While Asai’s medium (Houston’s very own dirt) gives this mural a built-in specificity, the imagery doesn’t seem at all Houston-specific. What we are instead seeing is Asai’s own personal mythology, a world of slithering and prancing organisms that seem as much a part of the earth as they are entities living on it. What this variety and vivacity does is remind us of the indomitable power of the natural world. It’s a magical use of mud, inhabiting that space between nature and human imposition, reminding us of our own inherent wildness.