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The paintings of Barbara Takenaga are easy to admire and hard to love. Straddled between these polarities is Takenaga herself, an artist cruising on pictorial stratagems and touched by personal tragedy. The relationship between the two curbs our judgment of the work.
Immaculately contrived and spectacular in effect, a Takenaga abstraction would enhance any mantelpiece over which it hung. Undulating patterns, typically comprised of dots, expand over the surface of each canvas. Takenaga’s methodology is impressive: The deliberate application of myriad blips of acrylic paint endows the pictures with a steely, photographic shimmer.
Funneling Op Art’s sensory overload through a stately vein of mysticism, Takenaga propels us to the outer reaches of the galaxy even as she recalls the microscopic doings of subatomic particles. Linear perspective establishes zooming, heady spaces; atmospheric perspective, an unearthly glow. There’s a cartoon element involved as well. The work’s rhythmic verve and rubbery plasticity brings to mind Kenny Scharf’s goofball riffs on Hanna-Barbera cartoons.
Reading the catalog, we learn that Takenaga’s recent pictures are influenced by events considerably less sunny: the death of a sick parent. “There is,” critic Nancy Princenthal writes, “nothing literal” about the connection between a mother’s dementia and her daughter’s “twilight palette.” All the same, it’s there, “run[ning] deep below the surface like a big, dark shadow.” There’s no doubting that Takenaga has evoked something elemental, hard and true from her unearthly runs of black, gray and white. (When saturated colors do make an appearance, a palpable diminution of feeling takes place.)
It’s to Takenaga’s credit that her art pinpoints, with uncanny specificity, “that sense of fading—shiny, hazy shifting” typical of a person afflicted with dementia. What Takenaga can’t entirely enliven (or redeem) is the dulling prerequisites of formula. A canvas like Doubleback (2011) would benefit from the aforementioned mantelpiece—seen on a piecemeal basis, Takenaga performs wonders. Seen en masse, you realize just how mechanical wonders can be.
© 2011 Mario Naves
Originally published in the October 26, 2011 edition of City Arts.