Japan and Sumi – Water­colour Worlds

In 1959 Tan­abe had the oppor­tu­nity, through a Canada Coun­cil grant, to travel to Japan and study Sumi paint­ing (Japan­ese ink brush­work) with mas­ter sumi-e painter Ikuo Hirayama. These stud­ies sparked the pro­duc­tion of land­scapes which resem­ble Japan­ese cal­lig­ra­phy, yet also exhibit ref­er­ences to land forms. The Sumi tech­nique is unfor­giv­ing, and while the results of this art form can appear spon­ta­neous, the com­po­si­tions are care­fully devised. As this was Tanabe’s first immer­sion in Japan­ese cul­ture, it was also an intro­spec­tive jour­ney in which he rethought his rela­tion­ship to the Cana­dian cul­ture in which he was raised, his artis­tic influ­ences and the sur­round­ing envi­ron­ment. In some cases, Tanabe’s approach to water­colour land­scapes is strongly inflected with the sweep­ing motion of Sumi paint­ing. At other times, Tan­abe applies thin washes of colour that cre­ate lay­ers rep­re­sent­ing grand and omi­nous West Coast skies. While these works are seen to con­vey a sense of the roman­tic sub­lime, embody­ing human expe­ri­ence in rugged nature, many of Tanabe’s land­scapes appear unin­hab­ited or aban­doned, even inhos­pitable — con­di­tions he attrib­utes to life and its unpre­dictable, ever-changing circumstances.