Takao Tanabe has been making artwork for more than six decades. Born in 1926 on the north coast at Seal Cove, British Columbia, Tanabe had very little early exposure to art. As a youth he often accompanied his father on commercial fishing excursions up the Skeena River. During World War II
— his teenage years — he and his family were detained by the Canadian government along with other Japanese-Canadians in an internment camp.
During the years after his release, Tanabe studied at the Winnipeg School of Art (1946−49) with the original intention of becoming a sign painter. From 1951–52, he spent time in New York working alongside pre-eminent Abstract Expressionists, including Hans Hofmann at the Brooklyn Museum of Art School. Tanabe continued his studies at the Central School of Arts & Crafts in London, England during 1954 and later travelled to Japan
where he studied at Tokyo’s University of Fine Arts (1959). Between the years 1959 and 1962 he travelled throughout the eastern United States renewing his interest in landscape. As a teacher, Tanabe worked at the Vancouver School of Art (now Emily Carr University of Art and Design) from 1962–65 and again from 1967–68. From 1973–80 he was head of visual arts at the Banff Centre School of Fine Arts. Tanabe is the recipient of many distinctions including honorary doctorate degrees from the University of Lethbridge and Emily Carr University of Art and Design, named to both the Order of British Columbia and Order of Canada, and in 2003 was selected for the Governor General’s Award in the Visual and Media Arts.
Tanabe’s works on paper – his drawings, prints and watercolours, stand alone as exquisite and masterfully-composed works, yet at the same
time these works offer entry points into stages of study, experimentation and development for his painting practice. As an institution specializing in works on paper, the Burnaby Art Gallery is honoured to present, for the first time, an exhibition which covers the expanse of Tanabe’s compositions on paper. Many of the works presented in this exhibition are being seen by the public for the first time.
Exhibited and collected internationally, Takao Tanabe’s interests have circumscribed the subject of the British Columbia landscape through abstraction, to realism, and back again. Tanabe continues to draw inspiration from the West Coast, maintaining a studio practice in Parksville. Working through various formal representations of place, Takao Tanabe’s distinguished career continues to present new vistas which remind us again of the vast and mysterious realms we inhabit.