Oil paintings by the Japanese artist Tomohiro Takagi are an intriguing combination of phantasmagoria and stunning realism. The viewer beholds the imagined inner spirit of the presented characters painted in the image of animals. They are expressed in such a way that we involuntarily begin to think about our own nature. Where is the border between the man and a wild animal, how fragile and delicate is it?
The artist’s view on the subject of human nature was formed under the influence of his stay in Papua New Guinea among the native people who were living in a symbiosis with wild nature. In Western culture, the tradition of interpreting a person’s character in conjunction with its similarity to various animals dates back to the totem cult of ancient times. Antique philosophers made the first attempts to describe in details properties of human character in resemblance to various animals. For example, Aristotle in his treatise “History of Animals” paid much attention to the so-called zoophysiognomy (a term coined by the art critic Jurgis Baltrušaitis). The ancients reasoned that animals do not pretend, their behavior is natural, so by following their instincts people can generalize about their character. On the other hand, man is secretive and it is not always easy to understand his hidden qualities. However, man’s resemblance to one or another animal allows to delve into his soul. This practice has transformed over centuries but is still firmly incorporated into the cultural context of the East and West.
Takagi’s characters do not simply resemble animals, but seem to be composed of two essence - animal and human. The artist introduces the image of an animal corresponding to his hero character /according to characteristic features of his character. Anthropomorphic and zoomorphic details of the portrait give them a resemblance to ancient mythological creatures or deities.
The realistic manner of Takagi reinforces this impression. The artist creates a space in which it is difficult for a viewer to distinguish between fantasy and reality. Animals introduced into a character's image encode it in a certain way prescribing the modus operandi of this hero. We see the metaphorical image fully revealing the characters temperament. The imaginary identification of the viewer with Takagi’s unfurling stories may help us to plunge deeper into our own subconscious and more clearly understand ourselves.