signed ‘Aya Takano’ in English; dated 2012 (on the reverse); signed ‘Aya Takano’ in English; dated 2012 (on the stretcher)
acrylic on canvas
130 x 162 cm. (51 1/8 x 63 3/4 in.)
Painted in 2012
Galerie Perrotin, Hong Kong
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd, Aya Takano: May All Things Dissolve in the Ocean of Bliss, Tokyo, Japan, 2014 (illustrated, p. 41).
Hong Kong, Galerie Perrotin, Aya Takano: Heaven is inside of you, 22 November – 22 December 2012.

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Lot Essay

Aya Takano is internationally hailed as an icon of Japanese contemporary art. Her works are part of a new pop ‘superflat’ aesthetic that borrows from Japan's otaku geek subculture, though Takano’s work focuses on the culture’s reinvention through a feminine perspective. She has pioneered her own pictorial language notable for its unique sense of kawaii and lolicon imagery (Japan’s transliteration of Nabokov’s Lolita). Derived from the concepts of escapism and phantasm of shojo manga (girl comics) from the Post-World War II era of the 1970s, Takano’s occasionally-naked waifs inhabit an explicitly feminine world that provides a kind of psychological sanctuary for her audience to surpass the constraints of society.

Created in 2012, Every Day is a Carnival (Lot 23) is a tour de force of Takano’s rich and complex visual language. The painting captures a group of willowy, doe-eyed girls dressed in brightly patterned kimonos as they dance giddily in an expansive plaza; a vibrant mosaic of multicolored starbursts and shapes blooms underneath their feet wherever they step, adding to the musical chaotic brocade. These wild patterns and the flat application of color not only serves to imbue the work with a gleeful energy, but also creates the sense of a flattened perspective - it is as if our girls are floating above the whirling shapes beneath them. The resulting supernatural effect alludes not only to the science fiction anime from which Takano draws inspiration, but also perhaps more importantly, to the aesthetic tradition from which these comics are rooted. Known as “pictures of the floating world,” ukiyo-e woodblock prints were widely produced during the Edo Period (c. 1600-1867) and often featured geisha, kabuki actors, and samurai. Like the women featured in ukiyo-e prints, the girls in this work are dressed in traditional Japanese attire, each one bearing a hallmark accessory; several of the girls hold fans adorned with painted flowers or calligraphy, while two others each strum a shamisen. (Fig. 1) However, each of Takano’s figures exudes a uniquely contemporary spirit, gazing out directly to confront the viewers as no ‘woman of the floating world’ ever would. They are our protagonists and it is through their eyes that we see this delightful and boundless universe.

Austrian symbolist painter, Gustave Klimt was also deeply moved by the raw linear power of Japanese woodcuts. It is easy to see the visual similarities between his painting The Virgins and the work presented here. (Fig. 2) Both paintings depict a group of women, each artist expressing an intentional desire to distort and abstract the space within their composition. Klimt’s women swirl underwater, held together by the colorful patterns that have coalesced around them. Meanwhile, Takano’s girls float in the air, propelled by the colorful shapes beneath them. While Klimt’s work focuses on the evolution of womanhood from a decisively male perspective, Takano’s work delights in the moment - her women are free from age, free from gravity, and despite their physical fragility, are certainly not weak, vulnerable, or virginal as they explore this foreign landscape in which the male perspective is irrelevant.

“...Takano’s work is not limited to a postmodern pastiche. Rather, communicating a spiritual journey and awakening through an encounter with the strange “other” seems to be her major interest.” (Midori Matsui, Beyond the Pleasure Room to a Chaotic Street: Transformations of Cute Subculture in the Art of the Japanese Nineties, p. 232)

In Takano’s world, geography and space are null, while future and past merge together. This is no more apparent than in taking into consideration the backdrop which shows the well-studied skyline of the Piazza San Marco in Venice, a silhouette that has been immortalized by many Old Masters, but perhaps none more famously than the Venetian painter Canaletto. (Fig.3) Whereas Canaletto’s 18th century work Piazza San Marco adheres to the rules of linear perspective and seeks to document each detail of the architecture fastidiously, in Takano’s rendering the buildings evoke the same playful charisma as the figures themselves. This jovial atmosphere is reflected in title of the work, Every Day is a Carnival, which also refers to the Carnevale di Venezia, the annual festival to which participants wear Venice’s famously elaborate masks and dance in Piazza San Marco.

Every Day is a Carnival is a testament to Takano’s sheer imaginative genius and her mastery and skill in painting. Each one of her works is like a window into the endless and ceaselessly developing narrative that she has conjured into existence. Through weaving strands of inspiration from diverse sources across time periods, cultures and media, Aya Takano provides herself, and by proxy, us an escape into her universe and an opportunity to shed the gravity of conventional morality and lift off the ground as well.

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