Tadasky (Tadasuke Kuwayama, b. 1935, Nagoya,
Japan) came to the United States in 1961, intoxicated with the
possibilities of abstraction — especially the geometric
rigor of Homage to the Square, the series of paintings
by Josef Albers that formed the foundation of postwar color theory.
Over a career spanning nearly six decades, Tadasky has devoted
his practice to the geometric motif of the circle, through which
he has pursued his two preoccupations: the interaction of color
and an incomparable control of the brush.
There is no trial-and-error in Tadasky’s approach. Each
new painting springs fully formed from his imagination while he
is at work on the previous one — a meditative process that
is both deeply felt and serenely impersonal. This is why Tadasky
titles his paintings with letters and numbers — a letter
denoting the series, and a number identifying the location of
the work within the sequence — there are no references to
the world outside the frame.
The superhuman perfection of Tadasky’s concentric circles
is founded on the specialized human qualities of discipline and
skill. They are made on a large turntable of his own devising,
which is overlaid by a wide plank (an expert woodworker, his family’s
business had been the manufacture of impeccably crafted Shinto
Sitting cross-legged on the plank, he rotates the turntable with
one hand while lowering the tip of a paint-soaked brush to the
canvas with the other, gripping it with a firmness that must be
at once rock-solid and highly attuned to the minute variations
of the fabric’s warp and woof.
Look carefully at the lines constructing the concentric circles,
and it soon becomes evident that what greets the eye with the
exactitude of an inkjet is in fact a brushstroke animated by infinitesimal
degrees of expansion and contraction, like the breathing of a
The variations on the circle that Tadasky has explored over the
course of his career range from vaporized spatters to compacted
matter to rings of fire. Each series encompasses a coherent visual
statement, such as the solid ball floating like a cold sun in
the E series, or the expressionistic brushwork that forms
the ragged circumferences of the G series.
The works in this exhibition have been selected from series D,
completed more than fifty years ago, between 1966 and 1967. Coming
only a few years after Tadasky committed himself to circles, the
D series includes striking departures from the artist’s
customary format of a circle enclosed within a square canvas.
In D-155 (1966-67) and D-156A (1966), severely
cropped circular bands interlock and overlap, disrupting the calm
embodied by their neighboring concentric compositions. Further,
Tadasky extracts the bands of color into narrow, vertical single-stripe
paintings, which are created through an equally meditative process
involving a large, rotating drum.
At the time Tadasky was making these paintings, critical attention
was split between an austere Minimalist/Conceptualist aesthetic
and its antithesis, Pop. In brief, Minimalism focused on the artwork’s
material composition and its status as an independent, non-referential
object, while Conceptualism contended that the object was subordinate
to the idea behind it. Pop Art, in contrast, drew its influences
from mass media and popular entertainment, including advertising,
graphic design, and comic books.
Other approaches, however, arose in tandem with the mainstream.
One was Perceptual Painting, dubbed Op Art in the popular press,
in which pure abstraction is channeled into high-key, optically
vibrating surfaces. (This movement was codified in The Responsive
Eye, an exhibition organized in 1965 by the Museum of Modern
Art, New York, which prominently featured Tadasky’s work).
Tadasky’s D series incorporates aspects of each
style without allowing a single current to dominate. The elemental
motifs of circles and stripes reflect the Minimalists’ formal
rigor, while the artist’s insistence that his paintings
reference nothing beyond themselves aligns with their advocacy
of art’s self-possession. The exacting internal consistency
of Tadasky’s various series and the preconceived mental
image that governs his painting process imply a Conceptual context
for each work.
Perceptual Painting is manifest in the alternating patterns of
thick-to-thin black lines, which set off an optical surface buzz
while demarcating tightly packed, convincingly rendered cylindrical
volumes. And the solid bands of blue, red, yellow, orange, and
violet recall the luminous tones of printer’s ink in both
comic books and Ukiyo-e prints, the popular Japanese
graphic art form practiced from the 17th to the 19th century.
It can be argued that, with Tadasky’s D series,
the look and feel of Ukiyo-e, which influenced American
comics and, in turn, Pop Art, have come full circle in the abstractions
of a Japanese-American painter.
Reading into the possible influences on Tadasky’s paintings
can be a reward in itself, but background knowledge is not necessary
to understand his work as he intends it — a visual portal
into a perfect realm of abstract color, shape, and line.