Home Magazine Who is Takashi Murakami's very talented assistant? Everything you should know about Aya Takano

From manga and anime to high and low art influences, Aya Takano’s daring paintings take you into the fantastical world of Japanese superflat art. Discover everything you need to know about this incredible painter and uncover the meaning behind some of her most successful paintings. 

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Who is Aya Takano?

Aya Takano is one of Japan's most exciting contemporary artists. She is known for her subversive, subcultural artworks that mix diverse influences from manga to traditional printmaking to science fiction.

After studying art history at Tama Art University, she began working in the contemporary art scene in Tokyo, developing a distinctive style as the assistant for the celebrated Japanese artist Takashi Murakami.

Takano became part of Murakami's Kaikai Kiki studio, a collective of contemporary artists exploring the intersections of Japanese traditional art and modern culture. The group—born in Tokyo and now with offices in New York, Berlin and Taiwan—includes other artists such as KAWS, Mark Grotjahn, Matthew Monahan, Yūji Ueda and many others

Today, she is best known for her involvement in the Superflat art movement drawn together by Murakami in the 2000s. 


Aya Takano, Shibuya sprint, 2020, Watercolor and pen on paper, 25 × 17.5 cm. © 2020 Aya Takano/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Courtesy Perrotin


What is superflat art?

Superflat artists explore the flattened aesthetic of Japanese graphic art, animation, pop culture and fine arts alongside the surface and superficiality of consumer culture.

Takano, Murakami and others draw inspiration from the aesthetic qualities of Japan's historic-artistic tradition alongside this "flattened out" contemporary culture.

Superflat art makes little distinction between high and low. The movement critically engages in the culture of surfaces and superficiality that grew out of the rampant consumerism in post-war Japanese society.

The emergence of Superflat art coincided with the economic crises of the Japanese economy from the 1990s.  The widespread insecurity since then combined with a hyper form of consumerism encouraged an art form that reflected these concerns. 

A quick glance at some of Takano’s artworks shows the hyper saturation of images that reflect the wider consumer culture. The abundance of color, forms and figures that decorate her canvases recall the of contemporary consumer society.

Aya Takano’s art takes everyday aesthetic characteristics of "low" culture and repurposes them within the "high art" market. Superflat artists sometimes then reassign these high art pieces within a low culture context, from merchandising to fashion collaborations and so on.


Aya Takano, hello friend, cheer up, 2020, oil on canvas, 91 x 116.7cm. ©2020 Aya Takano/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Image courtesy of Perrotin.


Takano as a superflat artist

Traditional and contemporary influences lie behind Aya Takano's art. She is inspired by all art forms, from erotic woodblock prints of the Edo Period to impressionism to anime and manga. 

She often depicts her subjects in environments that mix everyday street scenes with uncanny sci-fi locations and slippery narratives. 

By bringing these styles together, Takano expresses the broader concerns of the Kaikai Kiki collective. She flattens high and low art in a mish-mash of manga, anime, fashion and contemporary art.


Aya Takano, let’s go, to the battle, 2020, oil on canvas, Aya Takano/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Image courtesy of Perrotin.


Takano's influences

The influences of legendary Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama are evident in Takano's bold use of color. But her sources of inspiration are even broader. 

The artist's bold and sometimes eerie paintings depict exotic animals, elongated figures, fantastical landforms, and recognizable urban cityscapes. These disparate worlds collide with strange figures that traverse the landscapes.

Takano’s art draws on many influences of her childhood. She grew up reading books on science, the natural world and science fiction. Elements of these sources of inspiration are evident in her paintings, from the numerous animals that traverse her dystopian urban environments. 

Takano’s slim-figured, large-eyed young girls seem to float across these paintings as if suspended from in action. In doing so, the artist draws on the techniques and approaches of the surrealist movement—suspension, uncertainty and uncanniness pervade her paintings. 

By mixing images of women, animals and mythology, Takano appropriates popular art by using them to deliver a critical commentary on contemporary Japanese society.


Aya Takano, A Night Walk - A Pink Moon Emerged, 2005. Aya Takano/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Image courtesy of Perrotin.


What do Takano's artworks mean?

Takano's paintings are like stories where we enter the narrative midway through; some are stories of everyday encounters, while others are unsettling. From scenes of convenience stores to disquieting pastoral visions of The World in Two Hundred Years, Takano's artworks lie between banality, horror, and utopia. 

Many of Takano's paintings and prints depict young female figures. These works are a reaction against the culture of representing young girls in Japan's otaku culture. This objectification of young girls is reworked through the female gaze as Takano looks to empower her subjects,

In some of her paintings, we, the viewer, tend to enter the story already taking place between her young characters—as if we were opening a manga comic at a random page. In the painting hello friend, cheer up, Takano depicts a manga-like scene of two young girls talking through a bus window. 

What has happened in this story? It is not entirely clear. The young girl in the foreground cradles a broken arm and a bandaged cheek, while the other, holding a cigarette, looks on smiling. These incomplete stories crop up elsewhere in her work.


Aya Takano, The World in Two Hundred Years, 2017, oil on canvas, 130.3 x 194 cm. ©︎2017 Aya Takano/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Image courtesy of Perrotin.


Empowering art

Takano feeds in scenes from the urban experience and suspends her characters at the cusp of decisive moments. They are stories that are just about to take place; we have access to a split second of the story that is just about the happen. 

In Shibuya sprint, we see a young girl, accompanied by wild animals, including a fox, a cat and a mouse, running at full stretch through a graffitied underpass. The young girl is not the object of a narrative taking place around her; she is the protagonist. She races at such speed past us, the viewer, like a superhero rushing to save the day

This theme recurs in the painting let's go to the battle. In this monumental work, Takano depicts two young weapon-wielding girls suspended over a highway on their way, as the title suggests, to fight. The painting reflects Takano’s interest in flight. In interviews, she has described how her imagination often takes her on flights of fancy; she has often expressed her fascination with being able to fly. 

This painting unites many themes in her work, young female protagonists and the sci-fi cityscape. Takano incorporates urban elements—high-rise buildings, buses and speed signs—to become props that these young girls wield to tell their story in these fantastical spaces. This painting reflects Takano's wider interest in depicting the role of women in society, now and in the future. 


Aya Takano, Alighting on the Land of Convenience Store, 2014. Aya Takano/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Image courtesy of Perrotin.

Cover image: Aya Takano, Convenience store, 2006. Aya Takano/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Image courtesy of Perrotin.

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