I found Aya Takano's work when I was in 8th grade. I was the shortest kid in my class, and my hobbies included collecting antique buttons and making stop-motion videos with my Blythe dolls. Over the course of the year, I developed an unknown illness that left me bedridden with excruciating migraines. I didn't feel particularly strong, though I suppose almost no one in middle school does.
That changed when an art page I followed on my (newly created) Facebook account posted Aya Takano's Earth. I was enchanted by the painting's radiance and astonished at how well it reflected my current condition. The composition is unusual. Just to the left of center is the world-- a blur of white and aqua, it sits amidst a tangle of constellations and planets, and inky blue space. Flowers and other wildlife crowd the outer edges of the canvas, encroaching on the celestial landscape. In the middle are two nymph-like girls, not quite a part of our world, but not quite divorced from it either, relishing in their liminality. In this piece, vulnerability and being estranged from reality (as I was at this time) was celebrated.
In the years that followed, I became an avid fan of all of Aya's work-- the strange intimacy of Harmonic Overtone, the alien whimsy of Jupiter's Creature, the almost satirical girlishness of Fruit & Fruit Garments. I even wrote about her in my book, Never Be Sane. But during the pandemic, I found myself returning to Earth, and the way it visually described suspension between dreams and reality-- a space that many of us occupied during lockdown. We became passive observers of our own world.
In the height of the pandemic, it felt like I was thirteen again, and I imagine a lot of people also felt as though they were reliving their adolescence, another time in our lives where we were vulnerable and mainly defined by circumstances out of our control. I was going to write that Aya Takano captures the teenage experience--- the candy-colored palettes of friendship bracelets, the dreamlike solipsism of being the last one awake at a sleepover, girlhood in all its infinite mystery. But, while that is true, it doesn't completely describe Aya's skill. Aya's work really captures the unchanging truths we discover in our adolescence that follow us for the rest of our lives--- our own smallness in the larger context of things, the ephemerality of our lives, the true absurdity of our world.
Who are your inspirations and what lessons have they taught you? Many artists from the past. They taught me that we exist with freedom.
What work are you most proud of? Oh...every work is equal for me. What has been the most transformative experience of your life? It’s difficult to choose one, but the experience of being an exchange student for 1 year in the US when I was 17 [would be] one of them. This experience relativized my values. It is a treasure for me now.
I read somewhere that until the age of 19, you believed everything you read was real. What caused you to become more skeptical? I was like seriously believing in UFOs and so on, [in the same way] as academic science. I just read a book that verifies scientific lies in pseudoscience when I was 19. It was a big shock to me, but now I think there is no border between anything.
I also read that you imagine you have the ability to fly, and I was wondering if you could expand more on that? I think ability of human race [has] not [reached its] full potential yet. I think many things are possible.
How does your identity inform your work? Living as a female in this society affects to my work. I want people who are considered socially vulnerable [to] feel free and strong in my painting.
What drives you to create? My bliss is [in] creating something.
What’s your favorite memory from your childhood? Daydreaming Has the pandemic influenced your work at all? I think pandemic itself has not affected my work directly. But because of the pandemic, not only me, but many people [have] become [more introspective] because people are faced with their selves more than before. I think that has effected my work.
What advice would you give your younger self? You are ok with being yourself.