(Japanese, B. 1976)
On the Way to Revolution
dated '2008'; signed 'TAKANO AYA' in English (on the reverse of the right panel)
acrylic on canvas, triptych
each: 200 x 140 cm. (78 3/4 x 55 1/8 in.)
overall: 200 x 420 cm. (78 3/4 x 165 3/8 in.)
Painted in 2008
Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd., Aya Takano, Tokyo, Japan, 2009 (illustrated, pp. 114-115).

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Lot Essay

"[Romance symbolizes] the emotional, the grand, the epic; the taste of heroism, fantastic adventure, and the melancholy; passionate love, personal struggle, and eternal longing."
-Eri Izawa

In her visual musings of extraordinary imaginary capacity, Japanese female artist Aya Takano seeks to reinvent the otaku (geek) culture through a feminine perspective. Derived from the concepts of escapism and of phantasm of shojo manga (girl comics) of the Post-World War II era of the 1970s, Takano's images established a kind of psychological sanctuary for her audience to surpass the "gravity" of the social constraints by employing vaguely familiar yet distant settings. Stellar journeys into the frontiers of space, nighttime travels with insects, animals and strange creatures, adventures in the glistening city lights, are all transpired onto her delicately painted and vividly coloured canvases.

Over four meters wide, On the Way to Revolution (Lot 41) demonstrates her sheer imaginative genius, artistic language and vision that have placed the artist at the forefront of Japanese contemporary art of her generation. The painting is a fantastical visual wonderland that takes place somewhere in a balloon-filled, spacelike vacuum, where the young heroines are surrounded by fantastical creatures as they embark on a "revolution".

The title of the painting suggests a significant moment of change and action as the characters embark on a heroic adventure. Here, Takano embraces the subject of revolution which is traditionally reserved for grand, historical paintings in the Western artistic traditions, best exemplified in Eug?ne Delacroix's famed painting Liberty Leading the People that commemorates the French
Revolution in 1830 (Fig. 1). Similarly cropping the composition tightly in height, Takano heightens the sense of action and movement with the forward intrusion of the picture into the viewer's space as Delacroix did. Where Delacroix depicts an allegorical goddess-figure and a strong woman of the people personified as "Liberty" in his picture, Takano's heroine who is a frail, prepubescent young girl presents a captivating disjunctive contrast in the image of the theme.

Often appearing in her alternate realities partially clothed or fully nude, Takano's young female protagonists, with their large eyes, oversized heads and frail bodies, as well as the extremities of the body painted in pink, collectively emphasize their temporary suspension from adulthood and sensitivity to touch. At the same time, they represent Takano's unflinching, personal expression of sexuality and themes of self-realization and coming of age that defines modern shojo manga (young girl comic) romance narratives. Shorthand for Lolita complex, Takano's lolicon girls, long-limbed, almond-eyed, prepubescent waifs, are inhabitants of an explicitly feminine world, that is often sexualized. Takano comments on a type of artifice, subversions in society, and the spirit of carpe diem by juxtaposing the kawaii (cute) girls of contemporary Japanese society with elements taken from the ukiyo-e (floating world) and shunga (erotic art) in modern Edo period (1603-1868), populated by geishas, kabuki actors, samurai and prostitutes. In these extraordinary visions, liken to flashbacks of halfforgotten dreams, one witnesses a simulated experience of being transported into various spaces of opposites: ordinary and extraordinary, child and adult, fantasy and reality, human and non-human, purity and corruption.

On another level, the theme of revolution in On the Way to Revolution is one that is symbolic of passion and personal struggle, and is fundamentally emotional. Especially in Takano's rendering here, the audience can easily draw parallels between the theme of revolution and romance as stereotypically demonstrated in shojo manga romantic narratives. In the words of Japanese manga and anime critic Eri Izawa, romance symbolizes "the emotional, the grand, the epic; the taste of heroism, fantastic adventure, and the melancholy; passionate love, personal struggle, and eternal longing" which set into imaginative, individualistic and passionate narrative frameworks. What is interesting is that these qualities are also what drive a revolution in theory. In order to repudiate an existing social or political order, passion and personal struggle are key, and this emphasis on the emotional aspect, although not figuratively explicit, is the overtone in Takano's painting that draws influence from shojo manga. As such, Takano's images establish escapist environments that liberate questions of self-existence and issues of coming of age from the gravity of social constraints, and propose imagination as a means of release and freedom from the complexities of the contemporary world.

In On the Way to Revolution culminates various art forms that are distinctly Japanese. Takano draws inspirations from modern shojo manga, and ukiyo-e and shunga art traditions of Edo period Japan. At the same time, the multi-panel arrangement which envelopes the viewer's space, evokes the format and effect of byobu (traditional Japanese screens) (Fig. 2). Not only does Takano employ the right-to-left narrative sequence of traditional nihonga (Japanese painting) and the hand scroll, the subtle cinematic pacing here also reveals the influence of techniques from manga and anime. Concurrently, Takano's visual language that defines post-war Japanese art raises the concept of eccentricity in Japanese art forms that traces its lineage to the Edo period (Fig. 3), and can also be seen in works by ukiyo-e master such as Utagawa Kuniyoshi (Fig. 4, 5). Takano's capability to transform and reinvent the multi-layered artistic vocabulary of Japan across various genres and art forms is one that is best exemplified here in this superb work.

Aya Takano's rich, complex visual language is a successful union of her sheer imaginative genius matched with her mastery and skill in painting. Despite their apparent fragility, the characters move tirelessly in and out of these dreamlike worlds, showing expressions through their vacant, unblinking eyes and pursed lips, a look of bewilderment, amusement, or in this case, a slight craze overcome by the mystical, magical mystery of their past and present. It is this jarring contrast between the impression of gentleness and the underlying subversive nature in her work that is most captivating. Internationally recognized as one of the most important contemporary artist in Japan, Takano anchors the quality of her work by the sheer breadth and depth of her pictorial world and the capacity of her imaginations that is unmistakably revelatory of the perceived complexities of our everyday real world.

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