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Atsuko Tanaka (1932 - 2005)
Property From An Important Private Asian Collection
Atsuko Tanaka (1932 - 2005)


Atsuko Tanaka (1932 - 2005)
titled in Japanese; signed and dated '1980 Atsuko Tanaka' (on the reverse)
vinyl paint on canvas
44 x 37.3 cm. (17 3/8 x 14 5/8 in.)
Painted in 1980
Important Private Collection, Asia
Ashiya City Museum of Art & History, Atsuko Tanaka: Search for an Unknown Aesthetic 1954-2000, Exhibition Catalogue, Ashiya, Japan, 2001 (illustrated, p. 180, no. 174).
Ashiya, Japan, Ashiya City Museum of Art & History, Atsuko Tanaka: Search for an Unknown Aesthetic 1954-2000, 2001.

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Lot Essay

Atsuko Tanaka is a Japanese artist most known for her Electric Dress in 1956. It is a wearable sculpture made of electric wires with painted light bulbs and neon tubes. The piece is also a performance, where the dress itself then becomes a sculptural installation. When worn, the work attracts the most attention from viewers as colourful rays of light flash and glisten around the surrounding environment. Tanaka was inspired by the new technological developments and changes at the time in a post-war Japan. Such revolutionary work not only displayed the characteristics of the Gutai Art Association, of which Tanaka was a member of, but also foreshadowed her subsequent body of work.
Lots 78 and 79 are two iconic paintings by Tanaka both titled Work painted in 1975 and 1980 respectively. They are imbued with the visual vocabulary of complex networks, lines and circles - ideas of which originated from Tanaka's transitional Electric Dress. The abstractions are stylistically similar yet unique in their own way, having the fundamental repetitive elements of lines and circles in various colours against a flat, white monochrome ground. The repetition of symbols and motifs has long existed throughout the history of Japanese art and design (Fig. 1). Such patterns can be found in traditional Japanese kimono, as well as in origami art.
Although both works were painted when the artist had left Gutai, they still contained the experimental quality and energy that are deeply rooted in the avant-garde Japanese art movement. Colourful irregular circles seek to fill the entire canvas, resembling the light bulbs in Tanaka's Electric Dress. Tanaka's works are painted in a spontaneous manner, demonstrating her experimental approach to art-making. The execution of lines is crucial in both works, as they connect circles to one another, as if building a relationship between forms and colours, and on metaphorical terms between people and society. More importantly, it resonates with the idea behind Tanaka's psychedelic Electric Dress, with hundreds of light bulbs connecting one another to present a larger force, as if presenting the paintings as powerful circuits of electrical networks. Most importantly, they also illustrate the impact of the technological advancements in the Japanese metropolis during the 1970s and 1980s, exhibiting the impression of the Dotonbori district of Osaka - a vibrant and bustling city where Tanaka was from (Fig. 2).
In executing her paintings, Tanaka has specifically chosen vinyl and enamel paint, which are both household paint as opposed to mainstream oil or acrylic used in art. She takes advantage of the slick, lubricous fluid quality that surpasses oil paint, creating an even and homogenous form that is adhered to the surface of the canvas. The glossiness of the paint renders a shimmering sheen, reflecting light as it hits the surface of the works, emitting a wide range of colours. Tanaka's paintings fully execute the interaction of movement, rhythm and colours. Layers of enamel or vinyl paint overlap one another, never become fully transparent, forming the core of an experience that is directly connected to the viewer. The tangling of lines and circles appear to move toward to the front of the canvas, as though pressing outwards to viewers. In addition, creating these two-dimensional paintings as opposed to her earlier three-dimensional sculptural installations demonstrate perfectly the scope of Tanaka's lifelong pursuit to create an 'abstract space with concrete terms'. The materiality of vinyl and enamel successfully brings out the protuberant space from the picture plane, highlighting at the same time the confluence of the colours.

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