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The Cosmic Dimension in Tomie Ohtake's Art

The scientific man is a further development of the artistic man.*

F. Nietzsche

Viewing a work by Tomie Ohtake has two implications for the viewer: it invites reflection, in a primordial movement of subjectivation, and it promotes awareness of extramundane things.

This artist’s production has been leaving behind plentiful tracks for both the gaze and the analysis of meaning of her work. One possible reading of her work is afforded by the attendance of a cosmic dimension in her paintings - a dimension that has marked Ohtake's style since the early days of her career, but that has been further emphasized as of the nineties.

Even more fascinating is the fact that these works have anticipated, by means of artistic intuition, the images of the cosmos obtained with the aid of high-tech observation instruments such as, for example, the Hubble Space Telescope. Both the inexistence of intention in the elaboration of the artist's poetics of recreation of the cosmos and the increasing employment of technology to photograph or illustrate points of the universe constitute instigating materials with which to delve deeper into issues such as the synchronicity between art and science, and the relations between art and philosophy, supposing these three disciplines as interrelated fields of knowledge production.

The analogy between artistic images and technical and scientific achievements brings to mind a few romantic concerns, including those that have artists as sensible beings attuned to their time and environment, and as individuals with divinatory capacity. However, when it comes to this analogy with the work of Tomie Ohtake, romantic formulations are not taken into account, given our interest in understanding these issues through the analysis of individual works, and the circumstances in which they were created.

This tendency to execute a painting through the representation of spaces, shapes, and colors relates to a cosmic world founded in a curved geometry that provides the original framework for Tomie Ohtake's language and artistic expression. Two distinct and interlinked approaches allow us to clearly picture this tendency: one allows us to understand it by analyzing the work internally; and the other regards the artist's life experiences that directly or indirectly affect her production.



Tomie Ohtake stands out in the history of Brazilian art for having formed a synthesis of geometry and informality. A careful analysis of the different moments of her artistic career will reveal how she mobilizes her strengths to bring together constructive reasoning and gestural sensibility, thus arriving at a singular style founded on binary oppositions such as, for example, rectilinear and curvilinear, organic and inorganic, composure and displacement, symmetry and asymmetry. In this way, visual issues or solutions are invented under conditions that create subtle tensions on her works.

These tensions that organize ample pictorial spaces and lead to the creation of forms provide the base for a type of geometry that favors the attendance of a cosmic dimension in Ohtake's work -the expression of an outward gaze. Given its focus on nature, it is possible to draw a comparison between this artistic apprehension of reality and the technical-scientific approach that also converges on things of nature.

Tomie Ohtake's work provides glimpses into connections with natural forms. Despite it not being an impromptu representational painting, her work is situated in the intercrossing of a two-way, paradoxical relationship between art and nature: on the one hand, it draws away from nature without attempting to represent it at once, while acknowledging art’s own rules; on the other hand, it approximates it by taking as reference the natural units and standards that the artist transforms into aesthetic signs to structure the pictorial space.

The connections between Ohtake's painting and cosmic images must be immediately sought in an internal survey of the work, given that the paintings are composed of elementary organic forms that resemble (or synthesize) beings or settings from nature that may have equivalents in the macrocosms, which also integrates the realm of nature.

Patterns of curved lines and forms, ellipses or circles are found in the microcosm and the macrocosm that replicate those seen in the shells of mollusks, in the shapes of leaves or mountains, and in the structural arrangement of celestial bodies, galaxies, or black holes. When art depicts the real world, its language may be said to be capable of apprehending logical instances or laws that intersperse the different instances of the cosmos.

Tomie Ohtake creates a pictorial space in which the curvature is not null (as if were a visual translation of Riemann's description of space), given that the pictorial elements, forms, or structures are built on the assumption that the shorter distance between two points is the segment of an ellipse. Her work involves a geometric impulse that is not, however, the geometry based on the straight line.

While reinstating in her work the legacy of Constructive control and, at the same time, appreciating unrestrained gesturality, Ohtake puts pressure on the straight line, breaking its stiffness and establishing the curved line as her artistic sign unit. As result, arches, circles, spheres, ellipses or spirals appear in her work that ordain the artistic space. In recent sculptures, she has reduced volumes and emphasized artistic action by molding long tubes, which she twists and bends, thus creating spatial movements and ample voids circumscribed by lines or stripes. Therefore, be it in painting, sculpture, or printmaking, Tomie Ohtake discusses and broadens the possibilities of expressing surface, plane, form and dimensionality. She creates spaces in which the gaze can plunge and still be free to emerge and take wing for a bird's-eye view of the work. This gaze, conducive to a slow and careful contemplation of the work, simultaneously apprehends it as a whole, and in its minute details and occurrences. What we have, therefore, is a dualism involving spatiality and scale manifested as vastness, an amplitude that boasts specific, attractive eye-catching spots.

Within this vastness, the artist also creates planes that render the idea of void, both through a sensation of absence yielded by the flat monochrome plane that engenders a significant and silent nothing, and through the imprinting of presence resultant from the treatment of the surface and the colors applied in stripes or areas that converse with one another. In Tomie Ohtake's work, the void is not represented and appreciated in its own right as an anguishing expression that denotes an impossible conquest; rather, it stands for the coexistence of contrasts, and thus orders a dynamic pictorial space.

As a resource employed to take up the canvas, color - which Ohtake selects from a restricted palette-appears as a powerful element in the artist's vocabulary. Such parsimony in the use of colors (a criterion she also adopts in the creation of forms) does not prevent the impact and the pulsating vigor of yellow, red, and blue. In Ohtake's work, color defines areas, draws outlines, softens angles, and subdues or intensifies the effects of light and movement.

Tomie Ohtake draws out light that she disseminates in each work in such a way as to make it into another basic element of her artistic vocabulary, like color. In her luminescent space, the artist investigates shade, an issue intrinsic to the visual arts, constantly substituting the dialectics of light and dark as elements that reproduce, in her compositions, other binary oppositions: hot and cold, dense and rarefied, symmetry and dissymmetry, balance and unbalance, and, ultimately, order and chaos.

The representation of movement also explains this curved geometry. In Ohtake's work, gesture is suddenly frozen in its very path, thus composing a temporal sequence verifiable both in the internal movement that a curve or form tends to perform when pressured from inside, and in the evidence that such effort was actually made. The notion that everything is transformed may be apprehended in the comparison of different works, in which she reinstates the same basic forms, though altered by the passing of time.2

The ordering of the pictorial space to control and express motions within allows Ohtake to reassert the presence of that temporal aspect in her art production. Here, time can be observed in two dimensions: one refers to the duration of the artistic event that is imprinted on canvas, given that geometry contains forms, planes, and color areas undergoing transformation which the artist seizes at their movement of expansion; and the other originates from the contact of the retina with the canvas surface, which constitutes the observer's field of art viewing. Therefore, what we have is the coexistence of the fleeting time the artist expresses in the work and the private time set by the external contact with the work. Time is at once contained in the visual field of the composition and experienced by the gaze of the observer who experiences it as a time for reflection that accompanies contemplation and is retained in our memory.

For this reason in the silent monumentality of Tomie Ohtake's art realm, the movement represented in a single work or discernible in the sequence of picture viewing implies the passing of time. And thus, the artist gradually "achieves total reality, subtracting more and more until reaching the magic of Absolute, with kaleidoscopic pauses,” as Pietro Maria Bardi once remarked (1983).


Phases of cosmic representation

The observation of curved geometry and cosmic dimension in the work of Tomie Ohtake must take into account three phases: the first refers to spaces she created in paintings of the early 1960s; the second refers to paintings she produced between the late 1970s and the mid 1980s; and the third, in which her cosmic sensibility becomes keener, comprises works she produced as from the 1990s.

As they advance through these phases, Ohtake's paintings concentrate more and more on the actual construction than on form, while the latter tends to dissolve into spatial organicity and annul the figure-background relationship. As result, her painting becomes an unequivocal exercise, the bearer of the artist's certainties and doubts.

Once the gaze has taken stock of the attributes of her paintings of 1961 and 1962, viewers will realize that Tomie Ohtake also renders themes that remind us of incommensurable charts of the universe. During that period, the artist built an immense panorama, as if she were trying to cut out an ample celestial view while setting herself as far as possible from her field of observation. The immense spaces in black, gray and white that she constructed contained stains, spirals and swirls, bringing to mind from weather maps to forms of nebulae, the Milky Way, black holes, and other visual phenomena of the cosmos. Looking at these works, one has the impression that numerous spiraling movements take place in different points of the canvas surface, moving in different directions and thus prompting the gaze to apprehend great movements of expansion and contraction, flux and reflux. From the viewpoint of Ohtake's technique, the use of few and sober colors applied with the spatula impart a dramatic atmosphere to the canvas; and the painting of thick transparent layers to compose circular clouds offers glimpses of empty spaces or mysterious black areas.

In the painting executed in the late 1970s and the 1980s, in a movement that counters the previously remote distancing, the framing address forms by zooming in on them and placing them on the foreground. That which was once ethereal and expansive, now is substantiated and materialized into images that bear a resemblance to celestial bodies, galaxies, and other cosmic occurrences.

First and foremost, a review of Tomie Ohtake's output of the 1970s and 80s will show that in a series of works she adopted a perspective set in the orbital field, which brings to the observer a defamiliarization of the simultaneous dualism of distant and near. Furthermore, the observer's vantage point is set in an orbital field allowing a bird's-eye view of paintings structured by a quarter circle that attains monumentality and stellar dimension.

Next, the perspective crumbles, permitting that the artist compose, in a structuring process very similar to Cubism, a space accessible to a multiplicity of visions or approaches. In this way, Ohtake creates works with stripes that cut across paintings, diagonally, along which at times the artist arranges numerous lines, or elongated and narrow areas that vibrate side by side. In other works, these stripes oddly contain ovoid forms.

Paradoxically, as in the case of the arcs of circle obtained through a quarter spherical plane, this entire set of works is shrouded in complete silence; or it contains a slow and grandiose movement, as expanding stripes, recesses, or lines do not settle under any perspective. On the one hand, we see the static and ultimate close-up detail of the cosmic body rendered so that the viewer apprehends, in the part, the inapprehensible whole. On the other hand, we see Tomie Ohtake's quest to grasp the cosmic mechanics or dynamics as she tries to accommodate, within the limits of a rectangle, a world undergoing perpetual transformation, caught in its constant expansion or reflux.

In this second phase of her work, Ohtake revisits pictorial aspects with which she had dealt in the 1960s: transparencies, the painting's vibration, and a movement that mobilizes the entire picture, in several directions. The artist utilizes "various superimposed color layers and a structure that seizes at the same time that it releases the gaze under the painting. A few very simple formal elements such as circles and ellipses float in the color space when she breaks with the notion of figure and background. All elements pulsate without allowing any to gain a predominant status on the first plane."(Mendonça, 1991).

In her works of the 1970s and 1980s, this use of curved geometry becomes more discernible as Ohtake makes progress in the synthetic utilization of visual resources, renovates her artistic signs, incorporates broad color plans, and creates well-defined forms that she reworks into countless variations. These paintings now contain space-structuring forms drenched in light and color. This phase develops in multiple directions that include the following:
- paintings in which straight lines and angular forms are still predominant, though softened by the incidence of curves. They are rectangular planes that coexist with the ample canvas surface, thus hindering the perception of background;
- monochrome paintings composed with curved lines and rounded forms, gently built, and recipient of lights that impregnate the entire canvas. These works in which Tomie Ohtake harmonizes delicate color contrasts are also characterized by the attendance of forms or images set either on a line of  horizon or on the lower part of the picture, so as to suggest tridimensionality;
- paintings with characteristics similar to those of the previous group, while still differing from them for containing forms and images that lack support or base, thus gaining space to hover over or plunge into a broad color plane. This visual treatment was to further develop in Ohtake's paintings of the 1990s; - paintings featuring simultaneous, multiple perspectives that distort forms and planes articulated by lines. In these works, curved stripes strain the picture diagonally, and the coexistence of flat planes, tridimensional images fragmented into parallel curves, and linework with dramatic  graphic effect create feelings of defamiliarization. In this set, angularity appears as the basic issue, one that Tomie Ohtake was to revisit in the future, when she adopted an orbital vantage point from which to address semicircles or spheres.

As to the paintings produced from the 1990s to date, they feature interpenetrating form and background in compositions of visual units that lack hierarchy. Ohtake's trials with acrylic paint and water take to the extreme a visual proposal consisting of vivid colors applied with wide and diffuse brushstrokes, thus dramatizing the painting and beclouding any forms that stubbornly insist on emerging. These works boast another noteworthy characteristic: the artist's quest not only for unbalance and pictorial tension, but also for the incorporation of chance incidents sprung from the application of colored water on canvas.

This third phase features the constant attendance of forms such as (full, segmented or concentric) circles, spirals and ellipses constructed by means of the superimposition of layers of color dissolved in water, the use of thick, multidirectional brushstrokes, and fortuitous incidents. In a sense, the presence of the circle or sphere could be said to allow the ordering of the color chaos and the control of a medium that aspires to become form. The ordering of space resembles that found in Cubist multiplicity, favoring numerous simultaneous focuses, and a distancing that impresses the work with a spectacular cosmic dimension.

Form is not necessarily outlined in Ohtake's paintings. On the contrary, putting difficulties in the way of differentiating between form and background, and foreground and overview. Light, which continues to be a key element in the artist's work, contributes the monumental character of the resulting effect, distorting perspective and pointing out different paths for the gaze. In addition, it interferes by brightening or darkening areas, ordering or disordering the picture in part or in whole, and delimiting or taking apart lines, color areas, or incipient forms.

The expanding and at times superimposed curved or concentric lines that even outline forms resemble cosmic waves or radiations that propagate in space, also bringing to mind pulsar emissions, electromagnetic or electrothermal waves, and gamma emissions from the Milky Way.

Other paintings by Tomie Ohtake resemble overviews of spiraling or elliptical galaxies, obtained through high-tech instruments. Many times, the artist also creates forms that look like nucleus and branches, discs or halos of these star systems. Another, smaller set of paintings is composed by works in which the organic is overstated, thus posing a discussion that nears (fantastic) realism and suggesting designs of strange plant or animals. In which world would these creatures belong?

Water is a significant element in these works by Tomie Ohtake. Beginning in 1983, she took up water-soluble acrylic paints. The characteristics of this liquid, which according to the artist is "stronger than fire and stone," are relevant to the rendition of the cosmic nature of her works. From ground preparation to the several layers of paint and color, water is applied all over Ohtake's canvases. In this phase of her work, a relative lack of control of occurrences on the canvas surface is observed that results from the water being powerful enough to take its own course, thus defining areas or forms. The color-carrying water spreads out, creating forms and volumes that resemble expanding clouds or cosmic nebulae, or composing series of small units that impede the differentiation between background and form. Colored spatialities are created that burst out into startling, multiple happenings. Then, following careful observation, the artist begins to intervene on the painting. To this end, she makes judicious use of paintbrush, though still taking notice, assessing, and at times incorporating elements that occur by chance or by luck.


Reimannian geometry and above all the presence of a cosmic dimension in Tomie Ohtake's paintings, are also based on the artist's personal experiences. To begin with, we must bear in mind that Tomie has strong links with nature, so much so that nature seems to be rendered into signs in a large portion of her works. In view of this dualism of approximation and attraction we might imagine that the artist endeavors to decipher codes of the natural world, reinterpreting them in pictorial images. We might even suppose that her works feature the surrounding world as reference, visually present in synthetic or archetypal renditions. Tomie Ohtake draws information and pretexts for formal solutions that order her art field and the elements necessary to make up her artistic imaginary from nature or from her environment. Despite not being identifiable at a first glance, a large part of the artist's works are inspired in things (stones, artifacts, and diverse utensils), live beings (shells, the human body), and the landscape (geographical features, a bird's flight, heavenly bodies - sun and moon), thus reaffirming a constructivist figuration.

This position in regard to nature and to everyday life seemingly drives the artist to focus both the microcosm and the macrocosm in her works, always championing the conservation of art's ambivalence and autonomy. From an aesthetic viewpoint, the issue here is to guarantee the signage that the artist imprints on her work, as well as the freedom of the viewer - the person who deciphers this signed pictorial universe, the agent that completes the meaning of an artwork.

For various reasons, sharing the Zen philosophy while re-actualizing Eastern cultural values enhances the artist's ability to express herself. It enables her to go from the extremely small to the incommensurably large, seeking, in an orderly fashion, the pictorial synthesis that "speaks to the world in 17 syllables," as the artist wrote in a 1975 catalogue. It is from a keen sensibility for ordinary things, from the need for concentration and pondering the absolute nothingness - all of them related to Zen - that Tomie Ohtake takes references for her artistic act.

By taking into account such links with the surrounding environment and the assimilation of certain Zen values, painting becomes, as it were, a support for the discussion of existence and allows the strengthening of any links that may be present in the relationship between painting and philosophy. Tomie Ohtake's stance-one of independence in relation to art trends-and her  striking personality3 add value to and reinstate the meaning of individuality, at the same time that they enhance the artist's freedom to develop an autonomous artistic language.


Art and philosophy
Tomie Ohtake's work boasts a striking particularity: her painting heightens mental states of reflection, invites a silent contemplation and indicates the need to acquire intuitive knowledge about the meaning of being in the world. These characteristics of her work address the issue of the relationship between art and philosophy.

In the course of its advancement, Western painting - a tradition that includes Pliny, Vasari, Da Vinci, Constable, Turner, and even, more recently, Kieffer - has  always focused the interpretation of reality. According to Bachelard, it has always dealt with nature and human issues in the sense of seeking what is hidden. Yet, when establishing the association between art and philosophy, Merleau-Ponty emphatically states that painting is a philosophical representation of reason. To Michel Ribon (1991:120), meditation is continually revisited, whereas philosophy that animates landscape painters is not the same one expressed in their opinions; rather, it is the one that their gestures, while rendering their vision, represent on the picture: an artistic mediation on life and death, time and eternity, virginity of the world and resurrection of the Being.

In this same sense, when drawing a comparison between artistic activity and philosophy, Benedito Nunes (1966:61) remarked on the "speculative condition" of painting, affirming that the latter is capable of offering to the senses a sensitive, errorless translation of the same perfect reality that the intellect grasps through general concepts and reasoning.

In the body of works of Tomie Ohtake, the relationship between art and philosophy may be understood through the observation of its approximations to nature, Zen philosophy, and, fundamentally, the appearance of painting as a medium to ponder form, a metaphor of being in the world.

The artist's painting brings up issues related to abstract art, the moment it understands it as a continuity of figurative art that preceded it, as Meyer Schapiro (2001:44) remarked when reviewing the work of Mondrian. As to Ohtake, the abstraction she renders is not only associated with her early figurative trials; principally, it must be understood in her relationship with visibility or figuration found in reality, insofar as the artist explores the capacity of geometric or irregular forms to serve as metaphors. In this sense, we can talk about an "absolutely concrete" abstract art that, rather than simulating the surrounding reality, creates a new realm within the canvas. To this end, Ohtake resorts to autonomous rules and the establishment of relationships between texture, form, color, and other pictorial elements (Schapiro, 2001:10 and 13).

Tomie Ohtake's paintings, particularly those she produced as from the mid 1970s have an association with the real through references and elements taken from the environment, the landscape, or the body, which are insinuated in the rounded organic forms and in the predominantly curved lines, In a set of works by Ohtake, "Forms on attendance (...) are always fixed on a support that usually coincides with the lower edge of the canvas. They are vertical forms rendered in ascending manner that replicate the same movement that the artist imparted to flowers in her early painting. The paintings of this group clearly suggest tridimensionality, given that the elements or signs she utilized boast a volume represented through the coloring on the edges and the chiaroscuro. These organic forms spring from a base, from the earth, and acquire organic attributes"(Chaia, 1982).

These paintings that contain organic - like forms bring to mind a repertoire oscillating between “mental landscapes” and “imaginary landscapes” that has led Roberto Pontual (1976) to draw an analogy between the works of Tarsila do Amaral and Tomie Ohtake :"I believe I do not exaggerate when I sense an air (all but a distant aroma) of Tarsila in this bulk, and at the same time dense, lyrical, and even surreal manner in which Tomie has been distributing her painting elements. One artist took the immediate landscape and transfigured it. The other seeks the indirect landscape, to restore it."

"My work is Occidental, but it has great Japanese influence, a reflex of my upbringing. This influence lies in the search for synthesis : a few elements should say much. In haiku poetry, for example, one speaks of the world in seventeen syllables."(Ohtake apud Mendonça, 1983, translated by Harriet S. Mcclelland), the artist remarked on the influence of Zen philosophy.

To Helmut Brinker (1995:7), the understanding and experience of "worldly things-whether they be live or inanimate-from within is characteristic of Zen. It is to let oneself be seized by the work of art, rather than trying to grasp it from its exterior appearance, as we ordinarily do. For this reason, more than any others, Zen artworks demand from viewers a patient, silent, and intimate concentration. They also demand a complete retreat in the observation of the silent statement that ultimately reintegrates everything within itself before projecting everything into the absolute Nothingness (Wu, in Chinese, and Mu, in Japanese) that lies beyond all form and color.” For this reason, Zen works of art bear the "paradox of the silent statement" translated into an atmosphere that impresses the gaze wordlessly, casting it into abyssal depths, and into the viewer's enhancement through values hidden in ordinary things.

As to the latter aspect, unlike other religious or philosophical doctrines, Zen does not put down everyday life; on the contrary, it seeks to apprehend it by means of experience and observation, seeking to reclaim the enchantments of everyday life it contains in itself, in the form of a spectacle.

Based on the following assumption, we could point out a few elements related to the Zen conception found in Tomie Ohtake's output, such as for example the search for synthesis, the demand for concentration (on the part of both, creator and observer), the importance of silent contemplation and its cognitive potential: "the term Zen is ordinarily translated as 'meditation' or ‘contemplation,’ or even more correctly, as ‘concentration.’ As its origin, this word signified the intuitive spontaneity of knowledge derived from quietude and silence in the ongoing dynamics of ordinary life events"(Brinker, 1995:8).

Thus, while viewing art as a form of knowlegede, the observer may reclaim Tomie Ohtake's silent images; scrutinize at length the ample spaces dug in her canvases; be in awe of colors and lights that emerge from various planes; assess the long time created by the reading of her work; contemplate the mysterious forms, and, finally ponder life.

The quest for the essence of art in the creation of an oeuvre meant to “say a lot" with "few elements"- the viewing of which leads to contemplation (in the broad aesthetic, religious, and philosophical sense of the word) - characterizes the development of Ohtake's career. The stately forms, the sensual signs, and the silent pictorial construction create an atmosphere that induces contemplation. Tomie Ohtake's solid forms convey tranquility and substance, at the same time that they seek a balance between reason and emotion.

Other reviews have also pointed out another type of painting in Ohtake's art production that, even after having gradually shifted from the influence of Far Eastern aesthetics to that of Western aesthetics, still boasts a potential to apprehend the world. In this sense, when addressing the artist's works of the 1980s as well as her more recent production, Spinelli noted: "We can no longer discern at once what is oriental and what is occidental in her works. (...) The linework, the calligraphy, and the Japanese symbols are no longer explicitly represented; now we see new symbolism that is associated with the artist's inner imagery (...) Like in oriental culture, now the canvas represents a small portion of the artwork in a relationship between microcosm and macrocosm. The work is greater than the picture dimensions on their own right" (Spinelli, 1985).

As mentioned before, the spaces that Tomie Ohtake creates in her painting, prints, and even sculptures render images of immenseness. We might compare this to Gaston Bachelard's insight in The Poetics of Space: "lmmensity is a philosophical category of daydream. Daydream undoubtedly feeds on all kinds of sights, but through a sort of natural inclination, it contemplates grandeur, And this contemplation produces an attitude that is so special, an inner state that is so unlike any other, that the daydream transports the dreamer outside the immediate world to a world that bears the mark of infinity."(Bachelard,1996). The translation of immensity, stateliness, and even the void into artistic signs characterizes Ohtake's production and facilitates the verification of Bachelard's notion of "primordial contemplation" when we take into account the attributes that the gaze acquires while scrutinizing a work by the artist.

Previous remarks by some art critics had already pointed out the philosophical issue in Tomie Ohtake's paintings : "Tomie's painting is ample and beautiful. One plunges into it in a moment of peace and catharsis"(Olívio Tavares de Araújo); "The poetics and the transcendental became increasingly evident"(Claudio Telles); Tomie is a rare case in the realm of Brazilian painting to have reached transcendence, even though her canvases do not convey metaphysical concerns" (Casimiro Xavier de Mendonça).

Frederico de Morais (1987) once clearly defined the mechanism by which Tomie Ohtake's work immediately garners empathy, liberating emotion and understanding on the part of the viewer facing her forms that “come along with us, dream of us, sleep with us. [Forms] that one retains in one's memory, with absolute clarity". In turn, Bardi (1983) also remarked that Ohtake produces a “painting of reflection (…) seen as absolute, primordial self-determination” These statements not only bring up but also help establish the meaning of pictorial timing and reflective quality found in this artist's work and that constitute mediations in the flow between art and philosophy.

Another implication of this issue concerning the relationship between art and philosophy is a certain spirituality or religiousness perceived in Ohtake's work. In his presentation of the exhibition "Arte Transcendente "(Transcendent Art) at the Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo-MASP, in 1981, Theon Spanudis (1981) discussed transcendence in he work of artists that included Mira Schendel, Rubem Valentin, Alfredo Volpi, and Tomie Ohtake, among others. "In past years, while thriving more and more on her ancient and ancestral (Japanese) roots, Tomie began to develop lapidary forms that invite mystic contemplation - forms that she assembles into light sets after discarding and sacrificing all that is superfluous. Somewhat like Volpi's Franciscan manner, Tomie shows the beauty, the importance, and the luminosity of the simple and the essential (...). A gateway to contemplative mysticism."



Ohtake's artistic treatment of the construction of pictorial space and the distribution of signs within this space results in a painting that contains elements reminiscent of the macrocosm - a fact that is foreign to the artist's intentions. This construction is based on an intuitive process that corresponds to or anticipates certain scientific developments related to capturing images of the cosmos. Understanding an artistic production that takes Reimannian geometry as reference presumes not only the specificity of an artistic concept that creates particular spaces, pictorial signs and colors, but also a correlated advance in those scientific theories that aim to explain the universe. "Minkowski's introduction of the quadridimensional space-time concept has led to considerable progress in the theory of limited relativity. Later, Einstein generalized Minkowski's space-time concept through the introduction of a curved quadridimensional space-time featuring an undefined metrics, generalizing the undefined Euclidian quadridimensional metrics of space-time's limited relativity"(Schenberg, 1990:62).

Einstein got the idea of taking this flat geometry and transforming it into the Reimannian geometry of curved space (Schenberg, 1990:88). This differentiation in turn makes it possible to distinguish Tomie Ohtake's production from that of other artists who work themes or forms similar to hers. Tomie's Reimannian geometry is not rendered in the theme or forms utilized, but rather in the way in which she occupies the artistic space, as well as of the concept of world that rules the construction of the elements or signs on the work support. Therefore, we must distinguish the artworks included in a flat geometry situation from those characterized by their inclusion in Reimannian geometry, as is the case of Tomie Ohtake.

Mário Schenberg points out the possibility of "simultaneity" in the appearance of analogous situations and of the proximity between logical and scientific reasoning and the intuitive artistic process. To this author, Descartes becomes one of the most important personalities in history, not having been led to this by a simply logical reasoning, but by an intuitive process, including a dream. (...) Everything that has to do with the issue of space is extremely delicate, and whatever enriches the comprehension of space constitutes a giant step forward. (...) Interestingly, this is not the case of physics alone, but of art as well. Over the centuries, artists have been enriching their concept of space. So much so that there is said to be a very close parallel between Newton's mathematics and baroque art (Schenberg, 1990:62-63).

In terms of analyzing Tomie Ohtake's work, the approximation of the Reimannian geometry sought by the artist to the concept of a curved space-time generalized by Einstein gains new meaning, In both cases, pictorial medium and geometry are related, as the presence of the medium exerts strains and bends the geometry of space. Thus, in the artist's paintings, the pictorial medium tends to yield, to compose circles and ellipses to the extent of spiraling forms, like the phenomenon of the attraction of bodies in which stars and black holes entwine. It is thus also possible to say that in Tomie Ohtake's work, the universe is curved, the forms are curved, and the lines are strained and made to curve themselves as well.

As to simultaneity, "the theory of general relativity also allows an interpretation  of this sort (on the idea of causality and the relation of simultaneity), because there is a zone of causality that stays within the luminous cone, and the zone outside of the cone is, to some extent, a zone of simultaneity. (...) There is an Oriental theory, Zen Buddhism, that uses these ideas extensively, saying that the logical brain that the West values so highly is a new brain, a recent brain, but that the greater wisdom is in the older brain that has existed for millions of years. This is the reptile brain, which we also have. Perhaps artists live more with the reptile brain than with the new brain. In turn, rational and calculating man lives more with the external cortex that he feels is the newer part, more highly developed and sophisticated"(Schenberg, 1990:96-97).

The question of approximation between art and science gains enhanced meaning in Tomie Ohtake's work when we consider her production as of the early 1990s. As we have mentioned, forms and backgrounds are intercrossed in this period, at times to the point of becoming indistinct. The images constitute forerunners of photographs of the cosmos obtained by sophisticated space artifacts such as NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. From the language viewpoint, we find the recovery of broad expanded spaces, in the white, black, and gray tones of painting from the 1960s, an inclusion, in the finished work, of blotches, definitions of areas or other occurrences born of 'by chance' happenings when handling the paint, and the use of acrylic paint diluted in a large volume of water, which enhances the force of this natural element in the artist's expressivity.

Reflecting on these paintings dating back to the early 90s, Haroldo de Campos (1991) says he is led to think of "dissipative structures," a concept derived from Ilya Prigogini and Isabelle Stengers. Pondering this concept, the author observes that in Tomie Ohtake's work, "privileged shapes-circles, hubs, ellipses, hollows-allow themselves to be interspersed with transparencies; they are covered with blotches and carvings; they open up to receive oozing color and light; they glow or gloom, while the pictorial gesture conceives them as if it were retrieving them from a cosmic limbo."

Haroldo de Campos (1991) goes on, poetically, to redeem "a new way of looking at the man-cosmos relationship, and of regarding scientific knowledge as a 'poetic hearing of nature'," re-imagining the images he educes from Ohtake's paintings: I see here a nursery of suns - four spheroids of luminescent platinum contained in a golden cocoon-kit; there, I see some strange bulging concretions; a blue cetacean dives in the depths of the sky-ocean (...). Further on, a carbuncular red blazes, hypnotic, or yet a spiraled or spiraling eye that funnels down and turns inward (...) ; and I also ponder this collection of moons."

Two ideas converge to gauge the potential of art: that of Bachelard, when he states that "only the science of the hidden exists," and that of Haroldo de Campos in referring to the artist, when he says that in Ohtake's work he senses "a poetic hearing of nature."

Thus, Tomie Ohtake's paintings increasingly express dramatic efforts and attempts to fit the incommensurable into a metric rectangle.


Images of art x images of science

Tomie Ohtake carries out artistic discussions that interconnect space and the cosmos. Thus, the cosmic space in her works is not that which viewers see with the naked eye - i.e., the star-studded sky seen from anywhere on earth. On the contrary, her works lift the gaze, situating the viewer's vantage point beyond the stratosphere, near the cosmos captured by high-tech instruments,or to the conceptual cosmos, the cosmos configured multi-dimensionally, obtained by means of mathematical equations, and expressed in technical and scientific illustrations.

We must bear in mind that the idea of movement is a constant presence in Ohtake's works, not only when we consider them as a series, but as traces left by gestures that freeze an instant of the nature, or the path and the vibration of a celestial body. It may be the flight of a diffusely white heron that crosses a form, outlining an abstract pictorial sign, two narrow tracks that spring from the side of the horizontal frame and trace the space like trajectories of meteorites or comets, or even silhouettes of strange equipment or bodies in slow landings. The works of Tomie Ohtake therefore express the tension between movement and inertia, and the complementation between movement and speed.

Within this space of paintings, etchings, and sculptures there is no one center for the gaze to position itself. Because of the dynamic or busy space, the gaze can be directed from various centers - a paradoxical observation when we consider the presence of central and articulating forms. It is as though leaving aside the absolute or Euclidian space, a new space configures itself as relative space (the geometry of Reimann and Einstein), where the curvature is not null and there is not only one sole center, thus allowing pictorial discussion of the chaos and unbalance. There are thus no perfect forms in Ohtake's works, as her forms escape a