On a Journey with a Curious Mind
By MAJA MILANOVIC
A journey of an artist is ceaseless only if he bravely continues exploring what waits for him around each corner of his life.
Daisuke Takeya arrived in 1989 from Japan to New York City to study business at the University. Instead, a new kind of curiosity incited in this captivating city – a curiosity that made Daisuke seek for a new medium, a new vocabulary to express himself. Becoming a painter was a natural genesis. Painting faces, rooms and the environment which embodied him brought him a deeper understanding not only of the world that surrounds him, but of himself and the space he psychically interacted with on a daily basis. The artist received his MFA in Figurative Painting at the New York Academy of Art in 1995.
His initial curiosity triggered by the diversity in New York was explored in his Figure and Landscape Project. Daisuke would paint his models in their personal surrounding. The landscapes felt like extensions of the people that were painted in such a naturalistic way that at times they looked like clones of the real subjects. Even when the models weren’t posing anymore, hanging on the walls in the gallery space, their presence was intense. They faced us without fear of baring it all. There was nowhere to hide, to go. We knew them and we felt uncomfortable for them as they lied on the canvases surrounded by garbage, carrying their body weight while not being able to sit down or move because we knew that they were there for the painter to transfer them onto the canvases. But something much more than just their physique translated. We suddenly wanted to know if the sex they just had before the painter caught them was ok, was the baby crying disturbingly loud, what secretive games did they play. The natural palette of colours, the realistic technique that Daisuke mastered, turned the observer into an intruder as the people inhabiting the canvases were people from our own back yards. It was obvious that the painter was searching for a deeper connection. And yet looking closer at the paintings as the light often fell as a shadow onto the canvases, none of the figures were inviting. They all wanted to be left alone.
Most of the paintings were painted on single canvases, but Daisuke’s exploration of the diptych started later on in this phase. The diptych paintings would become very important in his next artistic phase named Everybody Loves You.
A painter who uses his brush as a psychologist, Daisuke continued to further discover the American Society by painting portraits of friends and strangers from his immediate surroundings. Not being able to pronounce his name, people often called him “Daisuki” which in Japanese meant, “I like you.” Daisuke became the most loved man in New York City, no matter which landscape he occupied. Being part of this word game ignited his curiosity again. He suddenly noticed that besides calling him Daisuki, people in the city so easily said the words “I love you.” Everybody Loves You was created while he tried to understand who were these people that so easily shared their love.
As his previous subjects, the faces of the people who shared their love were intense, unhappy, never smiling. The landscape of New York in the 90’s where all of this free love was being shared was depressing, bland; the city felt dislocated from its own inhabitants. The verbal love disappeared a second after it was announced, yet the souls of their owners and the city remained on Daisuke’s canvases. This time in order to understand what was happening around him Daisuke separated the people from their environment and painted them in a diptych. The people were painted as portraits on dark empty backgrounds. They were up close and personal. The landscapes were isolated on their own canvases, but they occupied very little space. Juxtaposing the minimal landscapes with the intensity of the portraits, these people seemed very disconnected from the space which they lived in. They seemed aggressive and starving for love. Usually people talk about how small they feel in the big city – Daisuke turned that around. The city seemed minimal compared to the faces. Once again, there was nowhere to hide. The emotions were upfront, bold and in our faces. They were vulnerable and so was the audience that didn’t know what to do with their words of love. The paintings were accompanied with a video work that was set in the next room of the gallery. The words “I love you” said by one hundred people echoed in the room. The faces on the TV screen weren’t as intense as on the paintings. The words that carry the strongest emotion in the world seemed awfully casual. One understood the painter’s curiosity but also his anger that everybody told him that they loved him when in reality it was far from the truth. While working on this project, Daisuke moved to Toronto in search of human connection. But New York still haunted him. He often returned to the city to take new photos and to video tape it in order to finish Everybody Loves You. In distancing himself from the overwhelming feeling of alienation in New York, he was able to finish the project.
Possibly exhausted by the experience of working on Everybody Loves you, Daisuke turned to his new environment. Kara, which means empty, was maybe the painter’s darkest collection yet. He writes that he painted the landscapes on a gloomy day in Toronto. The paintings were minimalism at its best. He looses the faces that through years he tried to understand. But more horrifying in Kara he almost loses the city motif itself. The landscape of the city was hardly seen. The busy life that went on in it, the thousands of faces that inhabited it were all missing. This time the city as a whole was fighting for its own existence. The painter seemed so detached, like a mere uninterested observer, and yet the results were frightening. With the grey sky which endlessly stretched above almost swallowing the city landscape, it felt apocalyptic. It left us with a bitter taste. The collection was lost without being exhibited, so the depicted void was for a long time just a mere distant memory.
After a few years, the painter took up a new role. He became a teacher. Daisuke taught the children to imitate from life and already existing paintings. The children he taught brought back his curiosity which he tackled in his work, Eyes of a Child. Why did the children like one work better than the other even if from a grown up point of view the works were thought as mediocre? The natural progress for Daisuke was to take his brushes and paint the children he taught. He started looking at life and art through the Eyes of a Child. For the first time in Daisuke’s portraits we detected new emotions: happiness, sadness, shyness, seriousness, sweetness. He goes back to the diptych. This time instead of showing the surroundings of the children, he shows us the inner landscapes by recreating the art works of the children. Daisuke allowed himself to break free of the oil paint and brush strokes, and experiment with new tools: play dough, colour pencils, collages. He uses bright colours which lack in all his previous paintings. For the first time he’s not afraid to be playful or to connect with his models. Surrounded by the portraits of the children and their art works as observers we giggled.
Inspired by this new experience Daisuke revisited his previous works as if he tried to correct them. In September of 2007, he participated in the Scotiabank Nuit Blanche with Everybody Loves You 2. As if recreating one of his schoolchildren’s art works, he presented to the viewers a huge sculpture of an afro shaped heart. Reminiscent of Japanese pop art made of glass mosaic tiles, plastic containers usually used in production of tiny toy vending machines for kids, fake fluffy pink fur, soft chairs and other funky materials, he turned the sculpture into a booth. He invited the viewers to sit inside of the heart, to experience the warmth he created while again asking them to say the words “I love you.” They were later projected on a screen that hang above the heart. Even if the viewers were self conscious about saying the words, they left the heart happy. By using new materials, Daisuke forgave the people for saying “I love you” when they didn’t mean it and cured them by giving them a womb like experience by welcoming them to the centre of his heart. He then sent them into the streets of Toronto with a new appreciation for love.
With a new strength, he also went back to confront the void in his project Kara. Looking at it with the eyes of a child Daisuke added more colours to the sky, and more details to the miniature city. He turned the landscape from frightening to giving us a little bit of hope. Again mimicking real life, the painter implied that when faced with beauty all human emotions and actions seemed rather tiny details to worry about.
Daisuke boldly hanged his paintings in order for us to face our immediate reality. But following his curiosity from Figures and Landscapes to his latest works, Everybody Loves you 2 and Kara, we recognized that he was a survivor and that after intensity and darkness bright colours could generate. Daisuke often liked to say, “Look up, what’s up.” The people in his immediate surrounding knew that it was a sign, and that it was time for his curiosity to move on and investigate.
Maja Milanović is a filmmaker and playwright born in Yugoslavia who also lived in Australia, Sweden and for the last twenty years on and off in New York City. She started her career as a writer for theatre and TV, after she graduated from the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. In 2001, she wrote a screenplay for the short “Veta (2001)” that was awarded with Special Mention of the Jury in the prestigious Panorama program of the Berlin International Film Festival 2001. After many years of writing, she decided to pursue directing. Her first short film “Chateau Rosaline 1937” was soon followed by her second short, the awarded film “Welcome” that attended many international festivals in 2010-2011 (www.welcome-shortfilm.com). Her plays include “Lilitu’s Girls Cabaret,” “Confessions of a Very Old Man who Knows,” “For the Sake of Art,” and “Madame Cabaret.” They were workshopped, read and performed in the USA, the UK, and Macedonia. She’s currently co-writing her first opera with Madelyn Kent and Peggy Stafford, and writing her first feature length film. And a few short ones.