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Body Electric

BY Kristen Schott | August 27, 2018 | Feature Features National

Sculptor and artist Melissa Ichiuji uses the female figure as her artistic muse.
Melissa Ichiuji poses with her “Angel” welded steel sculpture at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center.

It’s not surprising that mixed media talent Melissa Ichiuji uses the movements of her body to inspire her craft: She’s been dancing since she was a child, always making her friends try new choreography.

“I begin... by pinpointing the emotion I’m trying to express and defining the position of the spine in response,” says the Shenandoah Valley resident, who danced professionally for 15 years (including with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre) before turning to art, with figurative sculptures and dolls focusing on the female form—as evidenced by her latest exhibit in Paris and a new public project at the Afton Inn in Front Royal. “Femininity… makes the world go ’round,” she says. “As a lover, a wife, a mother and a force of life, I can speak about [the subject] with authority.”

Her works are unsettling but whimsical, meant to make the viewer consider the body in its raw form. A must: tension. Take her Paris show, Pièces Uniques, on view through Sept. 24 at Galerie Sophie Scheidecker. Here, she debuted ceramic works to play on strength and fragility: “They are feminine forms [with] a high-gloss glaze. They want to be touched, but their fragile material asks the viewer to handle with care.”

Her new project with the Afton Inn, meanwhile, is in conjunction with its renovation and historic preservation; her large-scale welded steel sculptures and murals are drawn from the legend of the Shenandoah Valley—its name means “The Daughter of the Stars.” So when she’s not sculpting? She’s teaching women to create self-portraits via classes like Guise and Dolls. “It focuses on... expressing the interior life,” she notes. (Her next workshops are Sept. 8 to 29 at Artists & Makers Studio, and Oct. 13 to 14 at the Katzen Arts Center.) The sessions naturally begin with dance; after all, she says, “It’s the most direct way to access emotions and open channels of intuition.”

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