15 September – 27 October, 2023
Night Walks

Night Walks

When Tadashi Toyama was 17 he lay down in a field and saw a strong light, an experience he’d later describe as mystical. He was cutting the grass with a sickle – you can imagine the repetitive sound, movement, rhythm – when the light shone through through the physical world like through a screen, making apparent the dense expanse of feeling and time that pulses beyond it. Perhaps, in that moment, Tadashi was able to see some of what is always around us, but not immediately visible; the reality of emotional landscapes and of memories. This early experience of Tadashi’s is testimony to a deeply spiritual and earnest art practice, which goes to the heart of what painting makes possible: the splicing of interior with exterior, the imaginary with the known.

Tadashi works across a range of motifs from fairly abstract dreamworlds without structure or gravity to spaces identifiable as rooms, inhabited by beings identifiable as human. Travelling Alone, with its green figure slotted into a green world between a burning red sun and a mournful moon, has the surreal quality of a Max Ernst, while Vacuum Tube recalls the quieter, more formal poetry of Paul Klee’s hazy and enigmatic colour fields. Others still come closer to recognisable experience, like in A Pub Somewhere, which shows a person (somehow skinless, sinewy, like a plant) move towards the exit of a shrill, red room. We witness a kind of primal scene; a private catastrophe congealed into traumatic memory with the claustrophobic rigidity of a cautionary tale. Similar creatures – think Studio Ghibli except morbid, like Georg Grosz – appear in Train Driving into the Sunset. But their fantastical nature is not the point, Tadashi has said; he is not the author of a fictional universe. Rather, they are vessels of transportation, carriers for emotions – and those emotions are real.

A certain propensity for idealism would lead Tadashi to study politics as well as – not long after – leave his study behind and turn to art instead. Politics dehumanises, he’s said, it turns people into numbers and renders the world flat. Art is not a solution, but in its murky depths at least there is the possibility of truth; art, Tadashi has found, works as a tool to approximate the ideal state he was looking for in politics.

This state is a kind of spiritual one, which Tadashi locates in his memory of the village in Japan where his grandparents lived, a place he has often returned to in his paintings. Vague and shrouded in the mystery and confusions of childhood, the truth contained in this memory has nothing to do with fact, but is full of contradictory projections of hope, love, and loss.

There is no such thing as objective reality, just as imagination and memory are not opposite, but part and parcel. His pictures, so Tadashi says, are true to what he feels he remembers. The magic of painting is that such a truth – highly subjective and volatile as it may seem – can be transported to viewers. It is precisely the far-remove from his grandparents’ village that allows it to live on and land, elsewhere.

‘I came to Germany to confirm a feeling of home that had been growing in my heart for some time.’ That feeling of home came from likewise fanciful and aesthetic impressions of medieval timber houses, the rich traditions of classical music and philosophy. Germany is the birthplace of idealism, after all, and, correspondingly, one of the most German of affects is that of Sehnsucht: a special shade of Romantic longing. It names the search for a (spiritual or existential) home, where home is a moving target, like the past, too, is a moving target for memory. Perhaps foreign countries will always be imaginary. Perhaps Germany – at least for Tadashi – is a place where that search and that longing in themselves become the home.

In the Japanese language, there are several words for emptiness, and yet the emptiness we find in Tadashi’s work is a fairly German one. In Vacuum Tube and Safe Area there is the heavy existential spaciousness of Caspar David Friedrich’s The Monk by the Sea (1808-10), a reminder that the origins of psychoanalysis, as Carl Jung once said, lies in romanticism’s window into the psyche. Tadashi describes the Düsseldorf art academy as a place of ‘a free and ghostly atmosphere. I knew it was the place I wanted to be.’ What he meant by ghostly, he since explained, is both the feeling of the past pressing upon the students – that is, the rich history of that school. But also something more dark and intangible: the sense that, by way of the free, creative framework, hidden things, which people would prefer to avoid, things like death or fear, might be brought into view. Tadashi has a certain sympathy for such things; they are familiar to him, and therefore he paints them. Safe Area – a naked figure crouching under a kind of diving board, the sinister negative image to David Hockney’s A Bigger Splash (1967) – is not a picture of safety, but of anxiety. But to paint this emotion is also to accept it, or in Tadashi’s own words, to set it free. To embrace the impact of the imaginary on lived experience is an ambivalent act: the interior is often far weightier than what we can see. For there can be no ideal place that has not already been lost, just as all freedom comes at a certain cost. So does Tadashi feel at home in Germany? He hesitated. ‘In society, I feel restricted,’ he said, ‘in art, free.’



Opening 15 September, 2023
Closing 27 October, 2023
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