The Elegant Veil
by Akira Tatehata
When I saw a number of her large-scale paintings lined up in one place, I was newly struck by the consistent manner in which she approaches her painting. In a word, it is a quest to achieve elegance in the pictorial space created by the correlations between the color field and the figure. This quest, which is solitary and noble, was made possible, I thought, by Toda’s decision to move away from her place of birth, Japan, and place herself in New York.
To my regret, I have been unable to visit her one-woman exhibition in Shanghai, but a video of the gallery shows that Toda has leapt forward from her past achievements. Although the beauty of her color field is an extension of her formalistic quest, in her new paintings it has swallowed figurative elements to create almost-transparent veils, vast, wavering expanses of color.
This is not to say that such veils end up simply generating an amorphous atmosphere. Toda in these new paintings has not totally neglected the relationship between ground and figure. On the contrary, she has preserved it at a deeper level. By suggesting a color field swallowing figurative elements, I am positing that Toda is exploring a means of grasping the space-generating dynamics of figures emerging in the paintings.
In this regard, the simultaneous showing of the video in the gallery of the Iguazu Waterfalls came to me as a refreshing surprise. It seemed to me that the DVD document of these awesome cascades between Argentina and Brazil conveyed the innermost structure of Toda’s world. The pouring waters partly shrouded in mists suggest at once fluid structures that move past you from second to second and mysterious images that constantly regenerate themselves. The images they create are identical to “the almost-transparent veils, vast, wavering expanses of color” that Toda creates in her paintings. Her simultaneous showing of the Iguazu Waterfalls and her paintings, one might venture, is an attempt to explore the secrets of the structure of her paintings through simultaneous referencing.
Video images are pregnant with time axis. The waterfalls constantly flow down while shrouding themselves with mists, never fixing their forms for a second. In contrast, paintings, once finished, no longer shift in image. The actual time axis is removed from the painting. Yet the space the painting creates, which is supposed to be still, cannot help reviving tremors in our imagination. Colors become pregnant with a mysterious feeling of fluidity and forms begin to waver indefinably. What may be called “waterfall time” that the painter has created with her brush evokes in the viewer a genuine pictorial movement.
In retrospect, Toda Yoko the artist has always pursued image both in film and painting in parallel fashion since her youth. When I visited her studio two years ago I saw a series of photographs she had taken of ruins. As I think of it now, photographic images that cut off time and the figure in her early paintings may have had something in common in their clarity. Her vision as a painter and her vision through her lens cannot be two different things. In her refusal to change according to the fashions of the time, in her pursuit of solitary, noble work, Toda attempted to return to the starting point in the creation of pictorial space. It was at that moment, I imagine, that she was compelled to turn her video camera on the Iguazu Waterfalls, which are solemn and sublime.
In this exhibition Toda Yoko grapples with a daring experiment. Throughout the world waterfalls have symbolized something at once sacred and grand, while at the same time representing a life force as well as Eros. Here, Toda takes on the challenge of exploring new possibilities of painting. Her vast, amorphous paintings suggest not an undigested painterly thought but a fascination with the origins of space. And she eminently succeeds in opening a unique, fertile world.