The evanescent beings of Aya Takano

Two young girls languid in front of an open fridge, cigarettes in hand, overlook the legs of an inert man on the kitchen floor

The evanescent beings of Aya Takano

Two young girls languid in front of an open fridge, cigarettes in hand, overlook the legs of an inert man on the kitchen floor. Young people drive a pink car without a roof while reading a Hindu text with their hair blowing in the wind by the sea. A dreaming woman-child is carried and caressed by the swell, the foam and the fish... May they be in the intimacy, in the middle of a megalopolis or on the Moon, we cannot say whether Aya Takano's characters - slender, naked and big-eyed teenagers - are kawaii ("cute" in Japanese) or neurasthenic, superficial or full of wisdom. The retrospective that the Lyon Museum of Contemporary Art is devoting to the Japanese artist is an opportunity to observe her work with hindsight, since it covers more than twenty years of creation.

A Tokyo Fine Arts graduate, Aya Takano, 46, first worked as a designer at Nintendo before joining Kaikai Kiki (“mysterious and attractive” in Japanese), Takashi Murakami’s production company, which is also a collective of artists, of which, in its unique way, it fully carries the “superflat” aesthetic, two-dimensional, without light effects.

As a child, she was fascinated by science fiction novels and manga, reading which very early on gave her a taste for blurring the lines between fiction and reality for phantasmagorical escapes. It is this particular ecstasy, “beyond the constraints of language and theory”, which nourishes his clear-line painting, also imbued with the tradition of Japanese erotic prints.

Kisses light as the wind

It is pointed out to him that the adolescent girls who populate his universe seem paradoxically ageless: "When I paint women, I in fact paint the spirit of free beings who live in each of us, women or men, of all ages", she confirms. And everywhere, the emphasis is on lightness: “Before, I already wanted to see everything that is positive in life, love, what is pleasant, rather than worries or sadness. I have always wanted to show a world where human beings, animals, flora, but also things, even bags, can be joyful! It’s a constant, but it’s become clearer now,” she summarizes.

“Now” means since the Fukushima disaster. The deadly and ecological shock of the tsunami had a radical impact on both his life and his work. Before, Aya Takano mainly depicted city life and consumer culture. Since 2011, the artist, who became a vegetarian, moved near the ocean, gardens and learned about Zen and Indian philosophy. She abandoned acrylic painting for oil painting, her palette has broadened, her scenes, often nocturnal, are more solar. Reconnecting with ancestral traditions, his paintings have become more poetic and mystical, even “kawaiio-shamanic”.

The before-after Fukushima is materialized in the exhibition by a large painted curtain. On the one hand, the retrospective, subdued part is presented in the form of four architectures in the shape of Polly Pocket boxes, these miniature dollhouses from the 2000s which open like a powder compact. Each of these pop boxes contains a facet of his universe, around the themes of childhood (we discover youthful self-portraits with a classic style and already very atmospheric scenes), science fiction (notably with his three novels graphics), the city (where there is a lot of talk about heat and food) and love, with kisses light as the wind.

On the other side of the curtain opens an airy and luminous space, which presents the artist's most recent works between a post-tsunami beach and a sea of ​​blue carpet dotted with cushion rocks to pose in front of cosmic and impassive deities in symbiosis with foxes, pelicans or turtles, riding ostriches or white cows, arms full of cats and dogs. So many beautiful neo-animist escapes warding off the gravity of the world.

“My painting is a prayer to show that there is another possibility,” says the artist. His sentimental and impulse universe, beyond any binary or moralistic vision, is a falsely naive, fully dreamlike nectar, which will delight the artist's fans.