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The Concrete Epiphanies of Kozo Takano

Giraffes are Running, Paintings41 x 29
As the delightfully ironic poems of Billy Collins make clear, verse that makes us smile is not always “light.” This point is also well demonstrated in visual terms in the paintings of Kozo Takano, an artist who currently lives and works in Yokohama, Japan, and states, “I am particularly influenced by the works of Picasso and Klee, and also by the Japanese painter Morikazu Kumagai. What unites these greats of art history, I think, is the witty humor which is expressed in their paintings. This extra element enlivens the works and makes them instantly relatable as well as engaging.”
    The epiphany that made Takano himself a painter occurred when he was 17 years old. Walking along a gravel road, he was inspired to draw, and was amused when one of the pieces of gravel that he drew appeared as if it had floated up from the ground. Thus, apparently, began his fascination with the slightly off-center elements by which the everyday world takes on a kind of unexpected magic.
    Even now, Takano says, much of his inspiration comes when he is walking or relaxing in some way, and a “concrete impression of the external world passes [through] the ideological process of the heart.”
    What makes his work most remarkable is how much wit he manages to convey within the context of a relatively austere abstract style. One acrylic on board by Takano, for example, consists simply of a thick black bar running along the bottom edge of the composition, with a dark gray rectangle resting on it at an angle that is slightly askew to the right of center. Entitled “Square Wave,” this painting is as pared down in both its monochromatic palette and the simplicity of its composition as any ancient Japanese Zen ink on rice paper scroll. Yet Takano translates it into the incongruous idiom of contemporary geometric abstraction with a jocular flair worthy of the great humorous draftsman Saul Steinberg.
    Equally succinct in conception is another acrylic on board that Takano calls “The Sun and the Moon.” It consists of two more or less equally spaced black squares not exactly centered against a tan ground that is as smooth and even as a freshly painted wall. The only difference between the two squares, when one inspects them closely, is the thin line of red emerging from the top of the one on the left, which, given the title of the painting, projects a strong sense of heat.
    A similar theme is evoked just as economically in another painting by Takano called “Sunrise,” comprised of a thick stripe of black acrylic running across an off-white background. The stripe bends slightly toward the left side of the composition to form an angular pocket containing just a hint of brilliant cadmium red light. Filling in the blank spaces in his or her mind,  the receptive viewer visualizes the sun rising over the brackish black water of a vast panoramic landscape.
    Considerably more complex, however, is another composition called “Zebras are Running.” Here, a welter of dark horizontal dashes bordered at the top and bottom by an earthy brown terrain, suggests a wide road along which the animals of the title (or perhaps just their detached black stripes!) race in a wild kinetic flurry.
    In a way that words rarely do for abstract paintings, the fanciful titles of these intriguing works add an imaginative dimension –– an element of concrete poetry, if you will –– to the formidable formal configurations of Kozo Takano. 
  – J. Sanders Eaton for Gallery and Studio


Kozo Takano, Agora Gallery, 530 West 25th St., October 9 - 30, 2012  Reception: Thursday October 11, 6 - 8 pm


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