BARBARA TAKENAGA | Outliers
Apr 7 – Jun 11, 2022
In her third solo at Robischon Gallery, highly regarded New York artist Barbara Takenaga’s exhibition, entitled “Outliers,” is an expansive series of compositionally diverse small and large-scale acrylic paintings on linen and panel. Within her exquisitely lavish approach, Takenaga’s rich overall palette of inky black, vibrant red, brilliant blue, yellow ochre and opalescent silver serve as the foundation for her highly detailed, animated mark. The deep space and marbleized, saturated color contained in the backgrounds of the paintings may suggest the cosmological, with their varying elements of liquid-like eruptions, patterns of concentric circles, and light-filled dimensional structures. As each composition singularly unfolds and redirects the eye, a sense of wonder and exploration is furthered by the endless activity. Artist and artcritical writer, Mary Jones observes, “Takenaga plays through octaves of weight. Tiny brushstrokes, hairlines, and rendered dots of white are made with the lightest touch, skittering across a heavy lava flow of poured and puddled acrylic. She knows her chemistry. With untold hours of attention, focus and devotion to her craft are haptically present, the paintings suggest strenuous concentration and, like meditation, allow the viewer to escape the pressures of time and distraction. Takenaga has practiced and honed these qualities through decades, and now, she thoroughly owns them.”
Barbara Takenaga states that, “The paintings in ‘Outliers’ are a continuation of my general process, trying to balance organic, random visual play with systems and order. There is a range of compositions within the exhibition – from the more abstract, as in the largest work entitled Blue Five which is far off on the Ab Ex (Abstract Expressionism) spectrum, to the more pictorial as in the smaller paintings interspersed within the exhibition, entitled Alcove or Closer. I’m interested in that space between naming an image and letting it be abstract paint which allows for more open-ended possibilities, a kind of visual tolerance. At the same time, there is a willfulness in the works themselves. I love that the paint asserts itself (through gravity, density, motion) and often tells me what to do in a collaboration where I am urged to relinquish my tendency to control. The familiar is up-ended by change and circumstance seemingly in a personal parallel with our current times.”
Turning to the foundational and intrinsic inspiration for Takenaga’s work, the artist’s visual language was formed in part during the mid-1970s upon attending the University of Colorado, Boulder, where she was educated as a graphic artist – a background which continues to influence both her process and the techniques she utilizes today. In addition to graphic arts, Takenaga was responsive to the decorative arts early in her career and was trained at a time in Colorado when the Criss-Cross artists’ collective had a strong voice. Criss-Cross was an artists' co-operative that evolved from the 1960s artists' Drop City community, located in southern Colorado, which focused on issues surrounding "pattern and structure." Colorado’s community found itself in dialogue with the 1970s Pattern and Decoration Movement (P&D), which was keenly aligned with many feminist artists of the time. Regarding P&D, Lilly Wei, independent curator, journalist and art critic, states, “They found in it a persuasive and powerful refutation and rebuke of Minimalist ideologies that were based on white male privilege. “P&D,” Takenaga said, “was the great flag of feminism,” and its concepts dovetailed with many of her own about art and the need to include non-Western cultures into the broader conversation, in particular their ornamental language. P&D helped to make women aware that what they had historically crafted/created, with little acknowledgment or remuneration, was of tremendous value. Quilts, textiles, wallpaper, needlepoint, painted plates and clothing are as integral to the design of life as architecture, and as vital a cultural contribution as painting and sculpture.”
For Takenaga, such sources of inspiration were and continues to be wide-ranging. Textiles, East Indian miniatures, and tantric mandalas ignite her imagination. Traditional Japanese folding screens, paintings, and prints, along with designs of Samurai helmets also inspire, all giving way to Takenaga’s bold sense of abstraction. Considering the process of creating two of her latest works, the artist writes, “In the painting Black Line, Red, the initial ordering structure was a detail from a Japanese screen painting depicting trees. Separated from its source, it becomes paint and abstract gesture. The pouring of the black line was loose and somewhat intuitive, while the red areas were outlines of organic shapes in the gray background. Again, loose and tight, systematic and random.” Regarding the largest work in the exhibition, Takenaga continues, “The dynamic revealed in the five-panel piece, entitled Blue Five, is at first glance a big explosive abstraction that could suggest the aquatic, atmospheric, or microscopic organisms. But sometimes, like a Rorschach inkblot, the positive and negative shapes rearrange themselves, and form giant silhouettes of heads as well as their shifting paint patterns. The flat colors that frame the blue image within Blue Five make it a ‘thing’ with a discrete shape – the blue pours of paint float in the center of the panels like a vignette. With this hard-edged perimeter, the objectness of the blue shape pushes against the illusion of the image expanding outward past the canvas.”
The work of modern and contemporary artists such as Lee Bontecou, Eva Hesse, Sol Lewitt and Yayoi Kusama, also spark interest for Takenaga along with a highly personal component within her use of pattern. Painting for Bontecou and For LB are two works in the exhibition that pay direct homage to the preeminent American artist Lee Bontecou whose dimensional wall pieces are sculptures that read like paintings. Made of unconventional materials, Bontecou’s acclaimed works (first recognized in the 1960s) often contained a round, protruding portal, a dark, built cavity surrounded by structures that Takenaga considers as she embraces Bontecou’s potent fractured dimensionality, imbuing and altering the language with her own exuberant, patterned luminosity.
With “Outliers,” the viewer is offered an uncommon experience within the dialogue of contemporary abstraction by way of being unapologetically beautiful while alluding to a relentless state of change. Intuitively directed by repetition and a responsiveness to the inevitability of transitions, the artist’s blend of worlds both ancient and contemporary, micro and macro, earthbound and cosmological, are guided by an impulse to address the universal. With each varied painting, Barbara Takenaga invites investigation and rewards the fully engaged viewer with an encompassing experience of movement, contemplative line and dazzling iridescent form.
Barbara Takenaga obtained both her BFA and MFA from the University of Colorado, Boulder. Takenaga’s most recent awards include the prestigious John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, the FOR-SITE Foundation’s Wauson Fellowship, and the Eric Isenburger Annual Art Award from the National Academy Museum. She is represented in the permanent collections of The Library of Congress in Washington, DC; The Auckland Art Museum, Chapel Hill, NC; Arkansas Art Center, Little Rock; CU Art Museum, University of Colorado, Boulder; The Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA; the Fine Art Program at the Federal Reserve Board, Washington, DC, The Henry Art Gallery, Seattle; Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, MA; The San Jose Art Museum, CA; the Sheldon Museum of Art, Lincoln, NE; Museum of Nebraska Art, Kearney, NE; Federal Reserve Board, Washington, DC; Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, MA; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA; The deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, Lincoln, MA; and Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation, Los Angeles, CA, among others. Her work has been exhibited at institutions including the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, Omaha, NE; MASS MoCA, North Adams, MA; Brattleboro Art Museum, VT; Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver, CO; National Academy Museum, New York, NY; Philadelphia Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA; Asian Arts Initiative, Philadelphia, PA; the Huntington Museum of Art, Huntington, WV; American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, NY; and the International Print Center, New York, among others. Takenaga’s most recent professional engagements include an extensive solo exhibition at the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center in Brattleboro, VT, as well as the first in-depth survey of the artist’s work mounted by the Williams College Museum of Art in Williamstown, MA, and a large-scale commissioned public project in the Neuberger Museum of Art SPACE / 42, New York, NY.