Takao Tanabe

Takao Tanabe – Malacca Strait: Dawn – Etching & Woodcut (not in this exhibition)

Takao Tanabe was born in 1926 in Prince Rupert, British Columbia of Japanese parents. He studied at the Winnipeg School of Art (which later became part of the University of Manitoba, my alma mater) and in New York. He travelled and painted in Europe then lived in many places. As director of The Banff Centre art program he revitalized the institution, establishing it as one of the most important art centres in North America. At 80, he’s still very active and producing his immense paintings of the West Coast of BC out of his studio at Parksville on Vancouver Island.

Takao Tanabe’s first exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery is a retrospective of his 55 year career. A recipient of the Order of Canada, the Order of British Columbia, two honorary doctorates and the Governor General’s Award in the Visual Media Arts, Tanabe is widely recognized as an artist of significant achievement. Early works spanned from abstract expressionism, hard-edge abstraction, to stylized aerial views of farmlands in the US, then washes of simplified Canadian prairie landscapes. Eventually he made realistic depictions of the drylands of interior BC, the Arctic and the West Coast, as well as other parts of the world.

The travelling exhibition ends on April 17th here in Vancouver, having first been at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. It moves on to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax and the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, in Kleinburg, Ontario. A major publication is available.

We enjoyed the exhibition very much. Most of Tanabe’s paintings are very large. One was huge – sorry, I forgot the name – it must have been about 12 feet wide, a predominately dark blue West Coast scene that was hung by itself on a very dark blue wall. Very dramatic, and done only a few years ago! Interestingly, his works do not show the presence of humans or their habitat. Though I’m personally not a great fan of landscape paintings, these did impress me with their power and spirit.

Being fond of prints, I had hoped to see Malacca Strait: Dawn (shown above), which I’m familiar with because one hangs on the wall of the printmaking studio at Capilano College! It was printed there for Tanabe by Peter Braune of New Leaf Editions, with the assistance of Jude Griebel, because the New Leaf press was too small! It was fascinating to watch the work in progress, a huge project with two copper plates, both with hand drawn and photo-based etching, and 2 woodblocks. From time to time, Takao Tanabe came in to observe and approve. As is the practise in all printmaking studios, the shop gets one copy, and that is how I was able to take a photograph to share with you here. Check out the project photos taken by Peter Braune!

More about Takao Tanabe:
a short biography
Art in Motion by Robin Laurence in the Straight
article by Amy O’Brian in the Vancouver Sun
AbsoluteArts exhibition report

IMAGES of Takao Tanabe’s work at:
Mira Godard Gallery
Equinox Gallery
Kelowna Art Gallery
National Gallery of Canada

April 13, 2006 in Art Exhibitions, Other artists by Marja-Leena