A red circle. The encounter of a primary color with the most elementary shape from Euclidian geometry. That’s it. Or all of it.
For geometers, a circle is an abstract idea always ready to be used. For a circle to exist and be discussed, one need only say “a circle”. And there are artists who employ circles, squares and other shapes in the same way, removing them from the shelf filled with known and available plastic ideas. For Tomie Ohtake, however, a circle needs to be earned, traced as if it was being created for the first time. During the first decades of her production, the 1950s and 60s, it emerges here and there, occasionally, in addition to insinuating itself in some of the curves and brushstrokes; then, in the 1970s and 80s, it appears half-way, outlining parts of shapes and compositions; afterwards, from the 1990s onwards, it becomes increasingly present, encompassing entire paintings in a myriad of textures, vibrations, radiances and silhouettes. The circle – a synthetic shape that condenses infinite associations (planets, organism, cells, stars, spirits, deities, affections…) – is her destination.
Red is also filled with symbolism. In a strict sense, it could even be what we see in a specific frequency interval in light’s electromagnetic specter, but it is much more than this. In Japan, where Tomie Ohtake was born, red is called “aka”, and its ideogram alludes to an incandescent bonfire. In Brazil, the nation’s name comes from the redness of the pigment from the wood that is similar to a burning flame. In Spanish, redness is associated with blushing: the result of blood rushing up the face due to intense physical exertion or strong emotion. A color that is, therefore, named by heat analogies and metonymies. This digression regarding the evocative aspect of the color is pertinent in Tomie Ohtake’s poetics, because, for her, colors always exceed their understanding as a physical and visual phenomenon.
This exhibition is an essay about Tomie Ohtake’s ability to expand the meaning of the most basic shapes and colors. Her ability of – without naming or describing specific forms – permeating her paintings and prints with an enormous spectrum of evocative meanings.
This ability comes from implicating body and gesture as means for her artistic practice. It is expanded by the array of synesthesia and symbolic associations that we, the audience, carry within our inborn memories. In this union, Tomie Ohtake’s eminently abstract pictorial research traces, even in similar images like the ones presented here, a diverse repertoire of atmospheres that encompasses heat, vastness, silence and eroticism.
A red circle. The egg and the supernova. The beginning and the end.