An Interview with Artist Tadasky (Tadasuke Kuwayama)

February, 2013

Tadasky (Tadasuke Kuwayama) was born in Nagoya, Japan in 1935. He came to the US on a student visa in 1961 and attended the Art Students League in New York City and later the Brooklyn Museum of Art School. Since the 1960s, Tadasky’s work has been identified with the Op Art movement. His first solo exhibition was held at the Kootz Gallery in New York City in 1965. That same year his work was included in the Museum of Modern Art’s groundbreaking exhibition, The Responsive Eye, and the museum acquired two of his paintings for their permanent collection. Tadasky’s work was also included in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery’s 1965 exhibition, Kinetic and Optic Art Today. Tadasky’s work is found in numerous private and public collections, including in the following museums: in New York, the Albright-Knox Gallery, Buffalo, the Museum of Modern Art, New York City, and the Roland Gibson Gallery, the State University of New York at Potsdam; in Maryland, the Baltimore Museum; in Florida, the Boca Raton Museum of Art, and the Lowe Art Museum, the University of Miami; in Ohio, the Columbus Museum of Art; in Massachusetts, the Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, and the Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham; in Indiana, the Indianapolis Museum of Art; in Illinois,the Krannert Art Museum, the University of Illinois, Champaign; in Texas, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; in Arizona, the Phoenix Art Museum; in Nebraska, the Sheldon Museum of Art, the University of Nebraska, Lincoln; in Iowa, the University of Iowa Museum of Art, Iowa City; in Virginia, the University of Virginia Art Museum (The Fralin), Charlottesville; in Connecticut, the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven; in Argentina, the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Buenos Aires; and in Japan, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Nagaoka, the Nagoya City Art Museum, the Ohara Museum of Art, Kurashiki, and the Takamatsu City Museum, Kagawa. Tadasky currently maintains studios in Chelsea and Ellenville, New York. He is represented by D. Wigmore Fine Art in New York City where in 2013 he had a two-person exhibition with artist, Gene Davis (1920-1985), entitled Gene Davis—Tadasky: Time, Dimension and Color Explored.


Julie Karabenick: For over 50 years, the circle has been the dominant shape in your painting.

D 124, acrylic on canvas, 86 x 86 cm (34 x 34 in), 1966

Tadasky: My work uses simple geometric forms, most often the circle, because they allow me to create the visual impact that I seek.

 M 211, acrylic on canvas, 112 x 112 cm (44 x 44 in), 2009

I’ve always wanted my work to be clear. The circle is a form from Nature—one of the most common forms for humans, one that we can’t avoid. So the circle is easy to understand and needs no explanation to appreciate.

C 133a, acrylic on canvas, 86 x 86 cm (34 x 34 in), 1965

I use numbers rather than literary titles because my paintings are not meant to refer to anything outside of themselves. There is no philosophy or theory, no religion or ideology involved. People are free to look at my work in many different ways.

N 202, acrylic on canvas, 81 x 81 cm (32 x 32 in), 2012

For me, an artist is someone who creates something new, something unique. This comes out of long experience developing your tools and ideas. Anyone can paint a circle, but each artist must find his own pathNo one can teach you how to do this.

M 317, acrylic on canvas, 97 x 97 cm (38 x 38 in), 2006

I use the circle to create my own world, a world that no one has seen before, my own universe. To do this is very exciting. I always want to try something different, something new.

M 264, acrylic on canvas, 130 x 130 cm (51 x 51 in), 2010

Small changes can produce large differences. Especially now, I find myself re-exploring ideas that I worked with a long time ago. Even though it may seem like I am making small changes in each variation, I still feel that each painting is unique. They are like my children—no two ever alike.

M 164, acrylic on canvas, 102 x 102 cm (40 x 40 in), 2007

In Japan, my father owned a factory that made shrines. The shape of the shrine has been refined generation after generation. I was very impressed by this. I appreciate the Japanese tradition of respecting skill and craftsmanship. This is very much a part of me and my work.

C 200, acrylic on canvas, 152 x 152 cm (60 x 60 in), 1965

I have learned that when you polish something over and over, it shines in its own way. You are creating your own world. For many years, I have polished the forms that I use to brilliance.

N 220, acrylic on canvas, 74 x 74 cm (29 x 29 in), 2012

Looking at one of my paintings is for me like entering a traditional Shinto shrine. Because they are both so simple and symmetrical, the impact is very powerful. I am not a believer, but some people would call this experience “spiritual.”

J 31, acrylic on canvas, 89 x 89 cm (35 x 35 in), 1988

JK: You  have always experimented broadly with color.

 F 112, acrylic on paper, 30 x 30 cm (12 x 12 in), 1978 F 118, acrylic on paper, 30 x 30 cm (12 x 12 in), 1978

T: I am fascinated by color. Color is my tool.

D 105a, acrylic on canvas, 119 x 119 cm (47 x 47 in), 1966

Color helps to create depth. I work with a limited space—the surface of the canvas. Yet I can create depth, and right away, you can enter the painting.

J 65, acrylic on canvas, 89 x 89 cm (35 x 35 in), 1989

In most of my paintings I use pure colors. You can create your own colors without mixing them by how you put one color next to another. This causes an interplay of colors. There are endless color combinations—everything changes when you change just one color.

C 191, acrylic on canvas, 145 x 145 cm (57 x 57 in), 1965

JK: You typically place the circle in a square format.

T: I most often use symmetrical geometric forms. I like the simplicity of symmetry. The square is a very common human-made form; we’re attracted to it. When I place the circle in another shape—like a square—I create dimension or depth in my paintings. In 100 years, people will still understand the forms I use.

D 114, acrylic and silver leaf on canvas, 87 x 87 cm (34 x 34 in), 1965

But it is how I use these forms that is important. I have always been very curious—I ask, “What will happen if I try this?” Sometimes I put the circle in a diamond, which is a more striking, active geometric form. And sometimes I will hang a work as a square and later rotate the painting to see it in a new way.

E 129, acrylic on canvas, 114 x 114 cm (45 x 45 in), 1969

JK: And this rotation works well due to the symmetry of the forms.

T: Yes.

JK: People often refer to your painting as Op Art.

T: People like to name things, but I am not trying to make anyone dizzy or create moiré patterns. I’m interested in color and form and dimension. I want my paintings to be powerful and beautiful. Beauty is forever. If a painting is good, it explains itself, it lasts. And you don’t have to explain a straight line or a circle or a square—straight is straight, round is round, square is square.

M 206, acrylic on canvas, 117 x 117 cm (46 x 46 in), 2009

JK: You often break up your circles or the entire format in a variety of ways.

T: Breaking up the circles is one way to make the painting more active.

 C 159, acrylic on canvas, 119 x 119 cm (47 x 47 in), 1965

JK: Even when you place different geometric forms within one another or use grid lines to divide the format, you maintain the symmetry of the forms and divisions.

J 105, acrylic on canvas, 91 x 91 cm (36 x 36 in), 1991-92

T: Yes. Again, the shapes and the divisions are simple and clear.

J 131, acrylic on canvas, 42 x 42 cm (16.5 x 16.5 in), 1991

JK: Early in your career, you made some paintings in a rectangular format, something that you would return to at several subsequent points in time.

 D 200, acrylic on canvas, 79 x 69 cm (31 x 27 in), 1967

T: Yes. But the symmetry is still strong here. It’s the same idea to me whether I’m painting circles or straight lines.

JK: Here is a recent work that has tall rectangular format. You created the form with an airbrush, a painting technique you have explored since the mid-1960s.

M 324, acrylic on canvas, 171 x 86 cm
(67.5 x 34 in), 2006

T: I use the airbrush a lot. You can vary the pressure to create many different effects—fine, tiny dots to large splatters. The airbrush adds texture and a sense of dimension to my work.

JK: You are able to achieve highly regular, symmetrical forms through the use of a turntable that you developed and refined.

T: Yes. I place the canvas on the turntable and rotate the canvas very slowly. I paint with a long Japanese brush that has more “snap” than Western brushes. It is very responsive and gives me more control.

JK: Growing up in Japan, you would have developed skill at using a brush as a child.

T: I began to write with a brush at about age 6 or 7, so I became good at using it. But writing with a brush is hard—you have to be very accurate.

The way I paint is also very difficult. The canvas looks flat, but it really isn’t. The cloth is flexible, and different areas are under different tensions. The surface dips in the middle, especially with larger canvases. So I have to be very steady as I paint. I “ride” the canvas with a brush and paint the lines thinly using a very light touch. It’s quite difficult to get the lines to meet up exactly as you move around the canvas, especially the large, outer rings.

Tadasky using a Japanese brush to paint a canvas that sits
on the rotating wheel he developed. Chelsea, 2012

I go over and over the lines, gradually making them thicker. I never measure, but judge by eye. If you look very closely, you can see that each line is really a little different from the others.

JK: What is the largest size canvas that you can work on using your wheel?

T: With my current wheel, about 72 inches, though if I wanted to make bigger paintings, I would figure out a way to do this.

JK: You also developed a device you use to paint long parallel lines when working with a tall, rectangular format.

T: I wrap the canvas around a circular drum that turns. This way of painting is also difficult.

Two paintings side by side on a drum apparatus, with a smaller turntable, far left.
Tokyo, 1992

JK: Do you begin your paintings by making preliminary sketches or studies?

M 61, acrylic on canvas, 81 x 81 cm (32 x 32 in), 2006

T: No, I never make studies. I spend a lot of time thinking before I paint. I wait until an idea is very clear in my mind. When I begin to paint, I know precisely what colors I will use, what width of line, what shapes. I don’t change anything once I begin to paint.

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