Born in Japan, Takako Nagi, was raised in Tokyo. She first came to the United States to study art in San Francisco and returned to Japan after graduating. But having spent only three tears in the West, she was surprised to discover that she no longer felt entirely at home in the land of her birth. She returned to the United States to earn her Master Degree in Fine Arts at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC where she still lives.
At first, Nagai hoped to become Americanized swiftly by destroying her Japanese part completely and creating something totally new. However, she found that the effort involved in understanding, absorbing and adapting to all cultural and social differences between the States and Japan had aroused a deeper inner struggle. As a result, Nagai not only found it necessary to reassert her unchangeable Japanese side, but no longer seeking to reject her Asian background, she also sought to come to terms with her identity by finding ways to fuse East and West.
The most distinctive aspects of Nagai's paintings are the composition (always dynamic, even theatrical, yet organized and balanced), the texturing (she builds it up with layers of paint, or just layers strips of newspaper) and the colors (generally a dark tonality, yet lit up with the glow of brilliant hues, especially red).
Her compositions are always conveyers of meaning and usually possess a dual meaning. An example of this is that often her paintings are divided, as is her life. She also uses the a spread-open kimono in her work as a symbol for the artist herself and because it is simultaneously stable and dynamic. Bamboo is used as a symbol for flexibility, and for upward striving.
The symbols she uses are generally Asian, not just Japanese, but some come from other regions of the globe. Among them are a pyramid and the phoenix indicating eternity, and the goddess image, not specially feminist, but, like Mother Earth, simply a positive image and an active one. Finally, she also uses poetry, usually her own, written in Japanese or English. Her intense fields of writing--both the simple, curving Japanese phonetic syllables and the more complex Chinese-derived characters--sometimes whirl around a figure, a graphic application reminiscent of the use of letting as a visual element in Japanese comic books (manga).