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Improbable Kinship: Arthur Liou, Barry Gealt, Osamu James Nakagawa

In the gallery where the triennial faculty show is on view at the Indiana University Art Museum, there's an arrangement of work that might not immediately seem interrelated.

Although disparate in terms of form, works by digital artist Arthur Liou, painter Barry Gealt, and photographer Osamu James Nakagawa emerged from the artists' philosophical and personal kinship. The three artists sit down to discuss how their connection enriches their art-making, in an "Art-side Chat" the Museum has called Kindred Spirits.

The Caves At Okinawa

Guggenheim-Award-winning photographer Nakagawa is seated next to his large-format photos of the caves in Okinawa, where locals took their own lives during the spring of 1945 when the island was under siege by Allied and Japanese forces.

Although Nakagawa comes from Japan, the inspiration to tackle the subject came from his colleague at IU. "You know, Barry, you triggered me," he tells his friend, emeritus painting professor Barry Gealt, "to think about landscape as a loaded place." He explains that his decision to photograph Okinawa's suicide caves was prompted by Gealt's own travels.

The Cliffs At Normandy

Barry Gealt's six-week tour of Normandy was motivated not by military history, but by art history. He wanted to take a group of students to the sites in northern France where his heroes had painted. While hoping to pay homage to the likes of Turner and Monet, however, Gealt couldn't help but grapple with the place's bloody legacy. "You see the beaches, the cemeteries…. It just buckles your knees. It's an awesome experience."

Gealt's response to the cliffs at Normandy resulted in work he couldn't have anticipated. "The paintings quickly translated into something very different." Gealt never could have known, though, how his paintings would be transformed.

A Digital Landscape

Fascinated with Gealt's paintings, digital artist Arthur Liou devised a way to incorporate the texture of his colleague's brushstrokes in his own work. Liou photographed small sections of one of Gealt's paintings-in-progress, then placed the highly textured image on a wave pattern using a 3-D modeling program. "It's like dressing the skeleton of the wave with painting," Liou explains.

The result is Liou's video Improbable Waves, a 30-minute loop set to naturalistic ocean sounds. Rising and falling in slow motion, the waves evoke the serenity, longing, and limitlessness of the ocean.

A Rare Common Thread

The tragedy that defines the other artists' coastal landscapes informs Arthur's work as well. Liou's young daughter passed away in 2007. The following summer, he took emotional refuge in the ocean on a diving trip in his native Taiwan. On his return to Bloomington, Liou's artist friends helped him back into life, and eventually, to the studio. "It was Barry who gave me my first assignment," Liou remembers, "which was to hang out in his studio, which brought me back to art-making."

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