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signed '84B Atsuko Tanaka' (on the reverse)
vinyl paint on canvas
194.4 x 259.4 cm. (76 1/2 x 102 1/8 in.)
Painted in 1984
Artist Collection
Private Collection, Asia
Ashiya, Museum of Art & History; Shizuoka, Prefectural Museum of Art, Atsuko Tanaka: Search for an Unknown Aesthetic 1954-2000, Japan, 2001 (illustrated black and white, p. 182, plate 197)

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Lot Essay


Tanaka’s painting from the late 1950s onward focused on an exploration of abstract visual language catalysed by her circular electric bells installation and Electric Dress (1956). Around 1957, when Tanaka started using more stable materials, such as permanent markers and vinyl paint, her first group of paintings emerged. Circular forms and lines, previously the pared down symbols for lightbulbs and electric circuitry, assumed a more autonomous character and began to function as a language for abstract painting. The two simple geometric forms proved to be an extremely fertile ground that the artist would develop in the four decades that followed.


Tanaka’s emblematic use of colourful circles and lines takes on a spiritual dimension, leading the viewer from an everyday reality into a more personal and aesthetic realm. The monumental painting presented here, '84B (Lot 10), invites visitors to enter into an ever-changing cosmos-like space with repeated yet organic serial formations. The work is characterized by a sense of immediacy and strident dynamism. Circles jostle side by side, and one inside another, as in '84B – like a mass of cells pulsing within against the confines of the canvas. Joined by a fluid network of lines, they are compelling evocations of the interconnectivity that underpins every aspect of existence - a true representation of an infinite life force.

Within the complicated structure formed by circles and lines in Tanaka’s painting, it is almost impossible to tell where the beginning and the end are. Tanaka simplified the universe into circles, lines and colours. Her painting process is forms a harmonious and balanced complexity through the use of the most basic elements. Her creation process is both a cycle of simplification and complexification, the endless process of reducing to essence in order to understand life in a world full of chaos and dissonance. The juxtaposition of circles, lines and colours of Tanaka’s painting indicates her sensitivity and sensibility about pictorial arrangement, alluding to the Eastern philosophy of reincarnation, as well as the complementary forces in the entire universe. In Laozi’s own words in Tao Te Ching: “The Way (Tao) begets Unity; Unity begets Duality; Duality begets Trinity; Trinity begets all beings. All beings have both ying and yang, and through constant interchanges, harmony is archived”. (Laozi, Chapter 42)

The representation of reincarnation and life force can also be observed in the work of another Post-War Japanese female artist, Yayoi Kusama (B. 1929). Both Tanaka and Kusama escaped Japan’s oppressive restrictions on woman artists and remained true to themselves. Kusama's works are characterized by self-generating polka dots that evolve into stars, eyes, flowers or pumpkins that repeat in an organic pattern. The infinite energy in her colour and graphics is parallel to the dynamism evolved in Tanaka’s perpetual structure of circles and lines.

In front of Tanaka’s '84B, viewer is absorbed by the monumentality of the painting, which commands a whole wall of a space for itself, which in turn becomes a part of the structure connecting to the lines and circles. In fact, while creating the work, the artist herself, engrossed into the structure as she stood in front of the large canvas. Such relationship between artist and her work is best exemplified in Tanaka’s environmental intervention featured in the 1968 film Round on Sand (directed by Hiroshi Fukuzawa). Along the lengthy beach, Tanaka freely engraves into sand a vast array of circles connected by dense web of lines, she then becomes a tiny spot of the network. Tanaka’s work brings human beings closer to the original rhythms of nature and universe, as close as the connection between wind and the current of the sea.

Tanaka’s abstract painting narrates the continuous and endless forces in the universe. It conveys the value of human energy and spirit in Gutai art. As was stated in Gutai Art Manifesto: “In concrete art, human spirit and materials are reconciled to each other in their natural state of opposition”, “to breathe life into material is to do likewise with spirit”. Tanaka’s deep roots in this holistic philosophical perspective about the universe, nature, life and art allowed her to imbue her work with an undeniable power and spiritual dimension, as well as distinguished herself as a pioneer of Post-War Art.

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