Takao Tanabe (b. 1926)
Takao Tanabe is a distinguished Canadian landscape painter and printmaker, working in a variety of media including lithography, etching, woodblock and photogravure. He is among the first wave of prominent Nisei (i.e. born of Japanese immigrants) Canadian artists.
Interned with other Japanese Canadians during World War II, Tanabe eventually studied art with Joseph Plaskett at the Winnipeg School of Art, who became a lifelong friend. He pursued his studies at the Brooklyn Museum School of Art under Hans Hofmann. With an Emily Carr scholarship, he went on to the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London, UK in the early 1950s. Later in the decade he went to Japan, where he studied Sumi-e and calligraphy in Tokyo with Ikuo Hirayama and Yanagida Taiun, who practiced large scale, single-stroke Zen calligraphy.
Throughout his career, Tanabe worked in a range of styles: Japanese-influenced ink drawings, hard-edge geometric abstracts in strong colours, semi-abstract landscapes dominated by wide horizons. Following a move to Vancouver Island in 1980, the artist developed his own style of serene painted and printed landscapes, which the National Gallery of Canada described as “quiet and light-bathed,” images that “capture the essence of time and place, and reflect [the artist’s] interest in Zen Buddhism.” Tanabe described his interest in, “this completely unoccupied, pristine land, as though I’m the first person to see it. It’s lonely, it’s mysterious, it has wonderful appeal to me. I feel great kinship with it.”
Takao Tanabe’s work has been exhibited extensively, including a major touring retrospective organized by the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria and Vancouver Art Gallery in 2005, and by the Burnaby Art Gallery and McMaster Museum of Art in 2011. The Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre in Burnaby featured his work in 2016. His work is held in major Canadian collections, including the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Vancouver Art Gallery, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Art Gallery of Ontario, Glenbow Museum in Calgary, McMaster Museum of Art in Hamilton, the National Gallery of Canada, the Tate Museum, U.K., as well as in a number of private collections
The artist has received numerous honours for his work. He was made a Member of the Order of Canada, the Order of British Columbia and is a Member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. He received the Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts in 2002, the Audain Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Visual Arts in 2013 and two honorary doctorates. He has exhibited his work extensively since 1950 across Canada and abroad, earning an international reputation. Through the 1970’s, Tanabe headed the Art Department and was Artist-in-Residence at the Banff School of Fine Arts.