An Interview with Artist Tadasky (Tadasuke Kuwayama)

February, 2013

JK: In 1966 you had several solo exhibitions in Japan—at the Tokyo Gallery and at Gutai Pinacotheca in Osaka. How did it feel to have these exhibitions in your native country?

T: It was an amazing experience. The owner of the Tokyo Gallery had many connections and was a strong promoter of my work. I sold a lot of paintings and got a lot of publicity—I was even on TV! One of the people who bought some of my paintings was Yoshihara Jiro.

JK: Yoshihara Jiro (1905-1972) was an artist and leader of the avant-garde Gutai Group that emerged in Japan in the 1950s. Group members rebelled against traditional Japanese art—as you had through your own work. Interestingly, Yoshihara also worked with the circle.

Yoshihara Jiro, White Circle, acrylic on canvas,
194 x 259 cm (76 x 102 cm), 1970
(Image source: Fukuoka Art Museum website)

T: Yoshihara asked me to join the group, and I did. He organized a large exhibition of my work at the Gutai Pinacotheca in Osaka and held a huge party to celebrate the exhibition.

JK: Let’s look at more of your work from this time. You were beginning to use closely spaced concentric lines to form your circles.

D 128, acrylic on canvas, 173 x 173 cm (68 x 68 in), 1966

In vertical format paintings from the same time, it appears as though you straightened out these curved lines to form bars or tubes. And by varying the line spacing, you could create a sense of volume.

D 156, acrylic on canvas, 173 x 137 cm
(68 x 54 in), 1967
D 206, acrylic on canvas, 63.5 x 63.5 cm
(25 x 25 in), 1967

T: The vertical lines do come from the circles and, yes,

D 202, acrylic on canvas,
48 x 117 cm (19 x 46 in), 1967
D 155, acrylic on canvas,
74 x 173 cm (29 x 68 in), 1966-67

… I am increasing the feeling of depth in these paintings.

 D 166, acrylic on canvas,
30 x 178 cm (12 x 70 in), 1967
 D 168, acrylic on canvas,
30 x 178 cm (12 x 70 in), 1967

JK: Here is a photo of a work in progress on one of your drums.

Painted canvas on a drum apparatus. Fulton Street studio, ca 1966-67

You had been living on Fulton Street in Lower Manhattan, but you soon moved.

T: The neighborhood was changing, and our landlord got a good offer to rent the whole building. I looked all over for a new space, but it was very expensive to rent a big loft. So I began to look for a place to buy. In 1969, I found a seven-story building on Grand Street that the owners wanted to sell for $65,000. I borrowed money for a down payment, and I paid the money back in a year because it was easy to rent space in this big building to other artists. In 1970 the area was rezoned as SoHo, and artists were legally allowed to live in these spaces that had been zoned commercial.

Grand Street loft with Tadasky’s wife, Patty and son, Teru, ca 1975

I wasn’t using the large ground floor, and a friend of Patty’s who was a potter suggested that I make a pottery studio. In the basement I built a large gas-run kiln—probably the largest one in the city. We hired a director, and many potters and students from colleges came to work there. I did some pottery for a few years, but I decided that as a painter, I did not have the time to continue this. I sold the building in 1977 and bought one unit with high ceilings in a building across the street.

JK: In 1969 you very often used an airbrush to give a sense of volume to your circles—though, as we see in these two works, you had already experimented with this approach in the mid-60s.

C 152, acrylic on canvas, 152 x 152 cm (60 x 60 in), 1965C 151, acrylic on canvas, 152 x 152 cm (60 x 60 in), 1965

T: I called these circle shapes “doughnuts.” The shading was done with an airbrush and gave the forms a lot of depth—pure form and color.

E 100, acrylic on canvas, 196 x 196 cm
(77 x 77 in), 1969
E 141, acrylic on canvas, 112 x 112 cm
(44 x 44 in), 1969

You experimented with this”doughnut” form, varying the compositions. You showed some of these paintings in two solo exhibitions at the Fischbach Gallery in 1967 and 1969.

E 155, acrylic on canvas, 145 x 145 cm (57 x 57 in), 1969

In B133a, you use a combination of overlap, partial transparency and shading to create depth

T: Yes. In this painting, I liked the contrast of a flat square you can partially see through with the doughnut shape behind it.

 B 133a, acrylic on canvas, 119 x 119 cm (47 x 47 in), 1970 B 133a detail

JK: You continued to use the airbrush.

T: Yes.In these paintings you don’t see the flatness of my early work—you feel depth.

E 154, acrylic on canvas, 76 x 76 cm (30 x 30 in), 1971E 137, acrylic on canvas, 119 x 119 cm (47 x 47 in), 1970

JK: Some of these paintings have a rough, textured surface.

T: I used the airbrush to create bumps of paint.

 E 148, acrylic on canvas, 127 x 127 cm (50 x 50 in), 1969 E 148 detail

JK: And in some works, you simulate texture with the airbrush.

T: In the 60s and early 70s, I did some paintings where there is texture on the surface of the canvas. But I wanted to get away from texture that looks like it was made by a human hand. I used the airbrush to create something that looks more mechanical, more universal or eternal.

E 134, acrylic on canvas, 119 x 119 cm (47 x 47 in), 1970 E 134 detail

JK: After the great success of your work in the 60s, was it discouraging that, as years went by, Op Art fell out of favor, and your work was not being widely exhibited?

T: Many artists who were doing Op Art quit, but I never lost confidence. I always had new ideas that I wanted to paint. You have to enjoy what you are doing, and I have always enjoyed painting. When I am close to finishing a painting, it’s a very exciting time. I want to see my idea completed. I can hardly wait!

Patty and I were lucky that I was still selling my work when she decided to go back to school for a Ph.D in Economics that she finished in 1970. That year, she got a job as an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York where she worked for 16 years. This was followed by jobs at two private banks in Tokyo and New York. I was working in my studio at home so I could look after the boys when she was at work.

JK: In 1973 you bought a building—a former hydroelectric power station built in 1898—in Napanoch, about 100 miles northeast of New York City. Once again, you engaged in a renovation project—this time on a very large scale.

T:  A local bank foreclosed on the property. We wanted a place to go in the summer and on the weekends. First I had to replace 32 windows and a water pump and make a kitchen and a bathroom. In the main area—where I wanted to make a painting studio—it was too big to heat in the winter. Later, in 1999, I found a building that had been a bank in the next town, Ellenville, where I made a studio.

Napanoch power house, Napanoch, New YorkNapanoch powerhouse interior

I moved the large kiln I built on Grand Street to Napanoch, and I continued to make some pottery.

Group of Tadasky’s pottery

JK: But the process of pottery making dissatisfied you in some ways.

T: Yes. When I work on a painting, I focus on it until I am done with hardly any stopping. When you make pottery, there are a lot of steps—throwing, drying, firing, glazing. With so much stopping and waiting, I might loose my original idea! And the process has too many accidents—many things can go wrong. When I paint, I have control. I make very few mistakes.

JK: A lot of your work from the mid- to late-70s seems to have a lighter palette, a more open, airy feeling, and a delicacy of paint handling.

T: I am always trying different things. I am interested in space, and I have always tried to give my work dimension and dynamism.

G 4, acrylic on canvas, 152 x 152 cm (60 x 60 in), 1975

I have always liked having a big studio with high ceilings. I want to see my paintings in a large space. I remember that as a young man in Japan, I saw magazine photos of very large paintings being done in America. I found this very exciting. The artists needed large spaces to make these works. In Japan, the paintings I saw were small, and an artist had to follow so many different rules. I had to leave Japan to find the freedom I wanted.

JK: Once again, you were exploring different ways of dividing the format.

T: Yes. I like the large outer rings with many things going on inside them.

JK: In G 2 and G 100, it’s as though there is a painting within a painting.

T: I liked combining the kind of circles I painted with a brush in the 60s with the softer, more mysterious airbrush work.

G 2, acrylic on canvas, 152 x 152 cm (60 x 60 in), 1975-77G 100, acrylic on canvas, 152 x 152 cm (60 x 60 in), 1977

In 1977 Patty was sent by the Federal Reserve to Basel, Switzerland for a year.

T: Yes. While we were there, I painted small works on paper.

JK: It appears that you continued to work on some of the ideas you had been exploring on canvas.

G 110, acrylic on canvas, 152 x 152 cm (60 x 60 in), 1975G 109, acrylic on canvas, 152 x 152 cm  (60 x 60 in), 1975

T: Yes. The size is different, but the ideas are the same.

 F 111, watercolor on paper, 30 x 30 cm (12 x 12 in), 1978F 110, watercolor on paper, 30 x 30 cm (12 x 12 in), 1978
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