Monday Modern Art Madness #6: The Serene Minimalism of Takeo Tanabe’s “Inside Passage”.

This week’s installment of MMAM is a bit different in that we once again are exploring a work of the landscape. However, this work of Canadian art is special for a variety of reasons; Now there are not a whole lot of things now a days that i like about this “post-national” nation in the great north. Frankly i feel like a stranger in my own homeland as of late. But the obvious political gripes aside, Canadian visual art is where I always felt at home, and by that i mean the great tradition of Canadian impressionist landscape painting.

A Contemporary Canadian landscape painter that always spoke to me from the very beginning of me wanting to paint full time is Takeo Tanabe, and His uniquely minimalist style; Now when I started painting, I was exclusively an abstract artist, lyrical abstraction in particular was my main fix. When I discovered Takeo’s art, I felt the confidence to finally attempt landscape painting. Now Takeo really understood this unique position, because from the very beginning of his artistic tenure, He arrived in New York trying to find a unique style. He was soaked in the world of both AB-EX (abstract expressionism), and what became popular in Canada at the time, “hard edge” or geographic color field.

In His earlier works, Takeo brought the styles of New York up north across the border, and often combined them in unique blends. After awhile, Takeo felt this was not being genuine to his own identity. As a Japanese Canadian artist, Takeo was uniquely familiar with the Japanese and Chinese Sumi-e ink landscape aesthetic and practice. In some ways, indeed Canadian “multiculturalism” can produce some unique artistic styles, at least that is a positive side to our state-enforced ideology.

Inside Passage” (2013) is a textbook representation of Takeo Tanabe’s mature style. Here we have a very minimalist representation of Vancouver island, with representations of storm clouds rolling in muted grey and blue tones, smooth, somber and eerie in its feel. The sporadic islands crawl out of the vast expanse of the areal perspective landscape, crossing the lines between representation and geographic abstraction. Not only do we see the New York influences on his work, but one that that originally attracted me to Takeo’s work is His use of medium: acrylic paint.

Takeo struggled to get the desired effect of Sumi ink with oil, so he soon switched to acrylic. He uses soft brushes and thins out muted blues, greys and yellows to the point of getting rid of all the bushmasters, often on a flat table, mimicking ink printing and Sumi effects. In the Mini documentary on his work by the series “landscape as muse”, Takeo explains that this thin and sparse approach to painting expresses the vastness and evanescence of the British Colombia waters and islands; In Japanese Zen ink landscapes, clouds, mountains and distant trees are often the aesthetic subjects of purposeful subtraction of detail and “Ma” or the Zen concept of “negative space”, to leave room for a work of reveal, to breath, “wu-wei” as it is known in the art practices of Taoism, to allow for “room making”. A lot of abstract artists in the 60s struggled to capture a Zen influence in their work, but to Takeo, this synthesis of philosophic and artistic styles comes nature.

I for one am a huge fan of this stuff, and years ago His work spoke to me, as I intently studied Zen and Taoism, and abstract art. In Takeo Tanabe’s landscapes, we find a bit of everything, from the Canadian influence of the impressionist Group of Seven, New York style AB-EX and hard edge minimalism, to Japanese ink landscapes, all using the more modern medium of acrylic. It is no wonder that He was awarded the order of Canada for his unique cultural perspective on Canadian landscape art.


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