To represent, in as basic a manner as possible, the dichotomy between fluidity and rigidity — or, perhaps, the abstract and nebulous domain of the dream state and waking consciousness, or the unknown and the known — artists, scientists, and philosophers have, throughout time, turned to two of the most basic of geometric shapes: the circle and the square. So much can be read into this combination of simple forms that its use in art presents the viewer with endless possibilities of interpretation. In his work, Tadasky has made a lifetime study of the circle and the square, the latter included as either the rectangular shape of the canvas on which he creates circular compositions or as a linear component of the compositions themselves.
Artists, scientists, and philosophers have, throughout time, turned to two of the most basic of geometric shapes: the circle and the square.
“The simple and symmetric form of the circle and square allows me to create a world that hasn’t been seen before,” he said. “Donald Judd once said in a review that my paintings should be done on a circular canvas, but this is completely wrong; the square is essential to every painting, even when it is only the canvas.”
Tadasky’s paintings, identified by letters indicating a series made at a particular time, are on view in a solo exhibition, Tadasky: Pushing Boundaries at David Richard Gallery. The show spans approximately 40 years in Tadasky’s career, starting in the late 1960s, the decade when he first came to prominence. His work was included in curator William C. Seitz’s groundbreaking 1965 exhibition The Responsive Eye at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The show was the first comprehensive grouping of artists who, rightly or wrongly, have come to be associated with Op Art, which refers to works intended to produce an illusory effect. The term is often misapplied because, as art historian Peter Frank told Pasatiempo in 2015, “A lot of people were working with perception but were not Op Art artists per se. They weren’t working with the rendition of illusion. They were working with the creation of perceptual challenges.”
Along with Tadasky, The Responsive Eye included artists Ed Mieczkowski, Frank Hewitt, Ernst Benkert, Josef Albers, and Bridget Riley, among others. It was a broad-based and international overview. The term “Op Art,” however, was first used in a Time magazine article in reference to a 1964 exhibition of the works of Julian Stanczak, who shunned the term. Tadasky, too, avoids its use in discussing his own works, which deal with the phenomenology of color and ways of seeing rather than with optical illusions. “I have never been interested in tricking the eye with illusions, and I do not use the term ‘Op Art’ myself,” he said. “It is the impact of seeing the painting that I care about, an experience of entering a world all its own. In the past, I compared this to the experience of entering a traditional Shinto shrine, which also derives its power from a simple, symmetrical shape.” In his native Japan, Tadasky’s father was a maker of Shinto shrines.
Born Tadasuke Kuwayama in Nagoya in 1935, Tadasky came to the United States on a scholarship to study at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, in 1961, and soon landed in New York, to study at the Art Students League and the Brooklyn Museum Art School. He has lived in New York since 1961 and became a U.S. citizen in 1964.
“I was twenty-six when I came to the U.S., and I already knew what I wanted to do as an artist. I was a student because that was the only kind of visa available, not because I wanted to take classes or study with anyone. Probably the person who had the biggest impact on my career was Augustus Peck, the director of the Brooklyn Museum Art School. He saw my work and gave me a scholarship that allowed me to work in my own studio, using my own painting wheel that I had started to perfect, to create the paintings I had in mind. This wasn’t strictly according to the rules and probably involved some risk on his part, but it made a tremendous difference in getting me started as a serious painter.”
Tadasky cites the Bauhaus artists as influences, but his work was also impacted by the artists of the Gutai Art Association, a radical art movement founded in the mid-1950s by Jiro Yoshihara in Osaka, Japan. On the whole, the group rejected representational art and emphasized conceptualism, attempting to move beyond even abstraction to create a purer mode of artistic expression.
Tadasky’s paintings range from geometric compositions in which the circle is hard-edged and clearly defined — and sometimes surrounded by larger circles rendered more diffuse — to configurations in which the overall compositions are ethereal, the edges of the circles faint, lending the paintings an atmospheric sensibility. His works glow as though softly pulsating with an inner light; E 146 from 1970, for example, has a radiant quality. The haloed forms of the composition — concentric rings in alternating yellow and blue — draw you in with vivid color juxtapositions that contrast with the painting’s sense of soft focus. E 134, from the same year, has at its center a sharply defined bluish-green orb floating in a deep red field — a dusky jewel spinning in some far reaches of the dark and brooding universe.
“It is the balance of basic elements of color and geometry that creates the impact of a painting,” he said. One could point to a number of works in the exhibition by way of example. In his 1989 composition J 65, bright orange coagulates at the center of the canvas, growing more dispersed as it spreads from the center toward the edges. But a faint whitish nimbus surrounds the orange center, containing it, as if depicting the outermost edge of a sphere aglow with inner fire. Tadasky is an artist who revels in the medium of paint, and J 65 is riddled with flecks of dark blue, turquoise, and pale yellow. The nimbus adds a counterbalance to the outward thrust of the explosive center, subduing it. Unlike some of the Color Field painters who were his contemporaries, and who made an exacting and scientific study of color theory, Tadasky works from a more innate sense of color relationships.
“I have never consciously applied color theory,” he said. “The color combinations I use grow out of the work itself and the process of visualizing it in my head.” That is not to say, however, that he works spontaneously, starting each composition as though it were a tabula rasa. “I do know what colors I will use beforehand. In fact, every aspect of my paintings is determined before I begin to execute it. I have the entire work completed in my mind before I begin. If a new idea develops while I am working on a painting, that will become the next painting; I never change what I am doing while I am working on one.”