The first impression of the paintings, on entering the gallery floor, are scintillating windows of color - like chromatic stars they appear to have their own pull of gravity.
The painter would like her paintings to stand as a record, a color field recording, of the influence of memory that she has observed arising in her creative process. She describes the sort of memory on display as something less specific than a particular scene, rather it is a wisp, a fragment floating between the conscious and the unconscious. In her own words, “I grasp those pieces especially vivid in my mind… and place them on canvas.”
In an interview with another abstract color-field painter, Helen Frankenthaler is being asked what the difference between modernist work and her own is. She says, “These are colors and the question is what are they doing with themselves and with each other. Sentiment and nuance are squeezed out.” Without question the results viewed as components, a collection of colors that are arranged, shaped and framed, become purely abstract phenomena that is experienced through the visual senses. So it would seem, color field painting succeeds in removing sentiment, but one is lead to question how such a void could be measured, or even detected, when we view the paintings and hear the motivations of Toko Tokunaga.
Tokunaga is a noble name in Japan, meaning “Eternal Virtue”. It is her intention to maintain the investigation into memory through painting, adding an intellectual layer to the progress exploration of light and shade, color fields, and now the introduction of shapes. Transparent vinyl paints that layer well on cotton canvas to create an absorptive matte affect. In some of her works, pieces almost cross over from a field to reveal a figured ground. The prevalence of blues and greens give other works a feeling of transition into landscape. In other paintings purple, blue and red fields are enmeshed, layered, yet flat as a door. Though abstraction may step away from sentiment, the investigation of mental processes in memory, and the biological response to color itself returns sentiment at once. For this painter, the virtues of placement and color displace the void of incidental, sensual mechanics.
The artist describes a dynamic, energetic mental process that occurs with each work. Memories and impressions swirl around her, and as she works from them components fall into place, and in some mysterious way work themselves out into a finished work. She describes the sense of completion, and stepping away, as painful.
Tokunaga lived in Paris for 17 years, where she encountered a teacher in Claude Vialla, a member of the Supports/Surfaces movement, at Ecole National Superiour de Beaux-Art. She found herself questioning her motivation for painting, wanting to find a theme behind the painting. To get simplify she made 100 painting which were monochromatic, implying gesture, free body movement, and a blindfold. This lesson liberated her from ideas of balance that had been introduced in her formal education, allowing her to paint as she liked.