dated and signed '2013 Aya Takano' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
162 x 130 cm. (63 3/4 x 51 1/8 in.)
Painted in 2013
Galerie Perrotin, Hong Kong
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Private Collection, Asia
Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd., Aya Takano: May All Things Dissolve in the Ocean of Bliss, Tokyo, Japan, 2014 (illustrated, p. 75).

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Lot Essay

Widespread unease and desire for escapism in post-war Japan, from the 1970s to the bursting of their economic bubble, led to the formation of the otaku subculture. Youths seeking escape from reality found a haven in Japanese anime, lovable animated films with a 'flat' visual look. But behind the superficial happiness of popular Japanese culture there lurked anxiety and despair. Contemporary artist Takashi Murakami once said, 'In the future, society, customs, art, and culture may all become like Japan today,
superflat"....Today, Japan's video games and animated comics fully display this superflat character, and they are one of the most powerful forces in world culture.' His outlook became the basis for 'Superflat' aesthetics, which mocked the increasing lack of depth in Japanese society, its 'flattening' tendency. Artist Aya Takano joins sci-fi scenes with superflat expressive techniques to create soft, beguiling, and feminine force fields that have made her one of the premier contemporary artists working in the 'superflat' aesthetic. Her female figures-supernatural, nude and unfettered-and other surreal elements such as strange and exotic animals, become the flying shuttles of the loom with which she weaves her charming, otherworldly rhapsodies.


Aya Takano's work is deeply influenced by traditional Japanese Ukiyo-e paintings. Expansive scenes are condensed harmoniously into flat spaces and gorgeous colors, while traditional painting techniques are allied with intense creativity to derive a worldview in which life becomes a dream. The Japanese term ukiyo originated in Buddhist thought as a reference to the societal behavior we see in the phenomenal world. By the Edo period of the 17th century, Ukiyo-e paintings were used to depict the social mores of the times (Fig. 1), and among them, Shunga paintings further embodied a fatalistic, 'end-of-days' philosophy of hedonism. The vaguely androgynous figures of Takano's work likewise frequently engage in hedonistic pursuits, the uncertain smiles on their faces paired with eyes both shrewd and innocent, while they exude an unruffled calm at odds with the rich and ostentatious offerings of the material world around them. In Secrets of the Thousand Year Spiral: Ozuka (Lot 40), half-nude young girls sporting unusual hairdos float in midair, the tips of their hair fluttering above them. These figures seem to enjoy a god-like xistence: their expressions lax and unconcerned, their poses bold and confident, their bodies and foreheads set with cabalistic markings, while a coterie of animals from land, sea, and air hovers about them.

Secrets of the Thousand Year Spiral was inspired by the rich variety of occult totems, in triangular and spiral shapes, found on the walls of ancient apanese tombs. Such markings, which appear repeatedly in the prehistoric ruins of many civilizations, are vehicles for different symbolic meanings and thus forming millennia-old riddles. The forms of the contemporary superflat aesthetic have been embedded by Takano in ancient myths that touch on the core of existence, for life and humanity, and in the fragmented moment of time in the painting we feel the fascination of our wild, uncivilized periods, creating an unusual mix in which the ancient coexists with the avant-garde. Pursuing the remnants of our lost traditions conversely gives this painting a kind of surreal, futuristic feel. In The Tree of Life (Fig. 2), Austrian symbolist painter Gustav Klimt also expressed in mythical terms the rich connections between humanity, heaven, and the underworld. His swirling, spiral branches symbolize eternality and complexity of life, but he models his painted figures after contemporary Viennese women. Such elements show the similarity between these two artists as they found ways of blending the present with the symbolic motifs of ancient civilizations.


The superflat style is not unknown among artists from Japan, China, and the West, yet with her unique outlines, character portrayals, and compositions, Aya Takano's fantastic mental imagery displays a rare tactful reserve and softness. Unlike Murakami, MR. or Hiroyuki Matsuura, who outlines the forms perfectly in bold and robust black, as well as pursues lustrous and perfect skin tones, Takano almost imperceptibly outlines the forms of figures in grey-brown lines, enhances the textures of human skin and animal hair. Where her lines are dappled, they take on a fuller, rounder, and more childlike quality. These grey-brown tones also echo the hints of grey-scale hues seen throughout the rest of the painting, helping it avoid noisiness despite the profuse composition. In her female figures Takano employs the elongated proportions typical of Japanese paintings of beautiful women (bijin-ga), presenting them with long limbs and soft, smooth skin. Twisted and presented from strange angles, they achieve the same kind of unrestrained freedom we sense in Chagall's Birthday (Fig. 3). American artist Roy Lichtenstein, who also found inspiration in comics, used their dot-matrix effects to create shadows, along with sharp-edged forms in primary colours. Takano's aesthetic differs in reflecting the regional culture of Japan and the relatively more reserved character of its people.

All restrictions of linear time and physical space disappear in the transcendent world of Aya Takano's art. Animals and humans all connect, communicate and coexist in a strange but beautiful utopia. Floating through Takano's virtual sci-fi view of the world, we find respect and fascination for life and a humble take on the unimaginable and the dark as well as the bright and happy. It is all of these together that allow her art to radiate its magical and mysterious charm.

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