Taro Okamoto - The artist wants to pass Pablo Picasso 12 minutes to read

Taro Okamoto – The artist wants to pass Pablo Picasso 12 minutes to read


Not only having direct influence and having met the Spanish painter, Taro Okamoto also set himself the goal of surpassing his idol.

Biography of Taro Okamoto

Taro Okamoto (1911-1996) was born in Kanagawa Prefecture to a family whose parents were both famous art makers in Japan. His father Ippei Okamoto is a comic book artist with Western influences, and his mother is Kanako Okamoto, a poet and scholar of Buddhism. So from a young age, he was directed by his parents to follow the artistic path.

Taro Okamoto was exposed to art from a young age by his parents.

When he was in school, he had a pretty bad performance, always ranked 52nd at the end of the class. Interestingly, the 51st is again Ichiro Fujiyamawho later became a famous singer and received the National Medal awarded by the emperor. Because of their “special” learning, the two became friends and later became successful people.

He often played jazz and classical music on the piano after taking a break from drawing. Many people said that he was on a professional level, but there was no record left.

In 1924, he released his first work “Haizan No Nageki” (The Price of Failure) at the age of 14, considered a promising young artist. At the age of 18, he had the opportunity to travel to Europe with his parents while they were studying literature. When he came to Paris, he had a chance to get in touch with the art cradle of the world.

The work “Haizan No Nageki” (1924) is also the oldest surviving work.

10 years life in Paris

Starting here, he spent 10 years studying in Paris. Besides studying French and culture, he entered the University of Paris in 1932 majoring in Ethnology. This is also the process by which he sought his life answer, “Why do I draw?”

The autobiography “Seishun Picasso” (Youth with Picasso) records the meetings between him and the painter Pablo Picasso.

Also at this time, he met and contacted the artist Pablo Picasso. The works of Picasso had a great impact on Taro, causing him to set aside the goal of “surpassing Picasso.” His excitement was written in the autobiography “Seishun Picasso” (1953) that:

“I have found a drawing style from abstract painting. This style is a real world that can break the barriers of tradition, people and language. It’s a typical 20th century art style. ”

The two people used to have many conversations and exchanges about art views with each other.

In 1936, he released his first abstract “Itamashiki Ude” (The Injured Arm) with images depicting the human suffering to overcome pain. Art critics appreciate Taro’s work. They call this the liberation of the traditional Eastern constraint to blend into the free flow of Western art. In 1938, the work was mentioned in the book “Surrealism Simple Dictionary” by André Breton, the founder of Surrealism.

“Itamashiki Ude” (1936) was the first work that brought Taro Okamoto to abstract painting. The work was restored in 1949 after being destroyed by war.

Pioneering artist after the war

In 1940, Nazi Germany invaded France and he had to return to Japan and two years later, he had to serve in the army because Japan was reinforcing the forces of the Pacific battle. This was a difficult time for him when he had to enlist in the army in his 30s and was treated as a private soldier.

After the Japanese surrendered to the Allies in 1945, he returned from the war and saw that his home and all his works were burned down. He started building a new studio in Tokyo and informed the press in 1947 that: “The stone age of art is over, Taro Okamoto This has a new artistic direction. ” This statement posed a challenge to the Japanese art world at that time.

In 1948, he founded the association “Yoru no kai” (Nocturnal Society) consists of writers, poets, politicians and painters who have gathered to discuss the pioneering arts. Later, most of the people in this association were successful and influential in their field.

The name of the association “Yoru no kai” is also based on the title of the work “Yoru” (Night) in 1947.

Studies on Japanese origin

It was also during this time that Taro encountered the work that changed his perception of art again after Pablo Picasso, the Jomon prehistoric flame-shaped pottery of the period. These are works of art in contrast to the confining of traditional Japanese beauty. This raised the question for him about the country: “What is Japan?”

There are assumptions that this is a prehistoric cooking utensil or used in special ceremonies.
“Bonsho kanki” (Joyful bell) in 1965 was he combined with art of Jomon period. This bronze bell is currently hanging at Kyukokuji Temple in Nagoya Prefecture

To answer that question, Taro spent five years starting his journey to discover the nature of the country in which he lived. The first place was the Tohoku region where he came across the ‘magical spirit’ of the original Japan. Two years later, in 1959, he traveled to Okinawa and what he discovered there was the ‘Japan’ that his contemporaries had set aside and lost. In the pure life of the Okinawan people, he was able to discern both his own origins and those of the other peoples of Japan. Taro’s journey through the Jomon, Tohoku and Okinawa era helped to find “primordial Japan”, a “forgotten Japan”, or in other words “nature of Japan.”

The book “Who created the art age today?” (1954) is a summary of the research that he has learned.

In 1954, he was asked to write an art enlightenment book that even students reading could understand. And the book “Who created the art age today?” (1954) was born and became a bestseller. He explained that art is not tricks, but life itself, while also criticizing traditional views on art.

The saying “Art is an explosion” became famous after he repeated it on television.

Since the 50s, his name has been known to many people nationwide through conversational programs and artistic perspectives. In the book “Who created the artistic era today?”, he stated:

“Art is not well-organized, not beautiful, and not easy to see.”

For him, factors such as skill, aesthetics and softness of the hands have nothing to do with the essence of art. Rather, art really captures and overwhelms the viewer, including its discomfort.

Departure and legacy

As he gets older, Taro Okamoto try to be more creative and open exhibitions. In 1992, he decided to donate all his works to Kawasaki when he turned 80. In 1996, he died at Keio University Hospital at the age of 84. According to his will, no funeral was held.

The 1965 sculpture “Gogo no hi” (Afternoon) is now placed on his tombstone.
His drawing studio in Tokyo became the Taro Okamoto Memorial House in 1998.
Taro Okamoto Museum was made in 1999 in Kawasaki city.
Because of being single, Taro adopted secretary Toshiko Okamoto as his adopted daughter and continued to look after the inheritance her father left.

In 1999, the city of Kawasaki built and opened the Taro Okamoto Museum. In 2007, the Taro Okamoto Award was born to honor artists who inherit his will. Not only Japanese paintings, documents and studies about history as well as origins are highly valuable documents in many aspects.

Two works of National Treasures

Taro has two works that were once recognized as a National Treasure and are now two of many popular public artworks. These are “Ashita no shinwa” (Myth of the Future) in 1969 and “Taiyou no to” (Tower of the Sun) in 1970. Both treasures are two linked works made by Taro from 1968 to 1970.

The painting “Myth of the Future” is currently on display at the Shibuya station.
Overall the painting is 30 meters long and 5.5 meters high.

In the late 60s, Taro went to Mexico and was hired by a local hotel to paint the painting in the lobby. “Myth of the future” depicts the human image in the moment of horror when the US nuclear bombs hit the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II in 1945. The fresco is born of deep thought and the author’s sob, as well as a belief that everyone will overcome the pain of war.

He sketched several times in 1967 before setting out on full-scale drawing.

He started sketching the work many times since 1970, until actually drawing in 1968 and completed in 1969. This is a massive work with a height of 5.5m and width of 30m. However, due to financial reasons, the hotel was not built. The painting was taken away and eventually went missing for more than 30 years. In 2003, the painting was discovered on a yard of a construction site on the outskirts of Mexico. His adopted daughter, Toshiko Okamoto, went to Mexico and confirmed the work was lost and officially announced in 2005.

“Sun Tower” is considered a typical project in Osaka Prefecture.
The back of the tower.
The tower has appeared in many comic books, such as “20th Century Boys” by author Naoki Urasawa.

The World Expo event that took place in 1970 in Osaka was a historic event marking Japan’s economic growth. And Taro is chosen as the art director for the whole exhibition. Holding such a prestigious position, he declared he would create “something crazy.”

The three faces representing the tower.
The 4th sun of the tower is located inside and is made up of various lighting effects.

“Sun Tower” was designed and constructed by Taro from 1968 to 1970 by three different construction groups. This is a 70 meter high building, consisting of 4 parts: The golden mask (the top) represents the future, the Sun (the middle) represents the present, the black sun (the back) represents the past and the face. Ancient heaven (the basement below the tower) represents antiquity. There is an exhibition “Tree of Life” inside the tower and after 50 years, people can visit the inside of the tower again in 2011.

Until 2011, everyone had the opportunity to visit the “Tree of Life” inside the tower.

Some other typical works:

The work “Jukogyo” (Heavy Industry) in 1949 depicts a Japan recovering and developing after the war.
The work “Mori no okite” (Law of the Forest) in 1950 depicts people who are bullied by the power of money.
“Moeru hito” (The Fire Man) is another work depicting the casualties of the war in 1955.
The 1985 statue “Kodomo no Ki” (Children’s Tree) is on display in front of the National Children’s Center of Japan.
The “Mirai o hiraku to” (Gate to the Future, 1988) statue is now located at the Gifu Monument.
The “Jomonjin” (Jomon People) sculpture, 1982.
“Hana-en” (Fire Flower, 1995) is Taro’s last sculpture currently located in the National and Historical Park in Arita Prefecture.

Which works by Taro Okamoto do you like the most? Let iDesign know your thoughts!

Editor: Navi Nguyen

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