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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Taro Okamoto

Taro Okamoto's studio

Art is an explosion - Taro Okamoto

I visited the studio of the post-war artist Taro Okamoto (1911-1996) on the weekend. Located in Tokyo's trendy Minato ward, his studio is preserved much in its original state, and throughout the rest of where he lived is a selection of his paintings and sculptures.

Okamoto was not only an artist. He was also an anthropologist who, as an artist, received his inspiration from Japan's pre-historical Jomon era. He published extensively on the art of the Jomon era as well as creating works beginning in the 1940s and 1950s inspired by it that clearly anticipated the psychedelia of the 1960s and 1970s.

Strict orders - an anti-war satire by Taro Okamoto

He was enlisted to fight in China as a young man and spent four years at the front, an experience that turned him against war. His unapologetic anti-war satires are hard-hitting. Not only did this appeal to a war-weary nation after surrender, but his primal, vivid, otherworldly images rooted in Japan's history struck a strong chord in the hearts of a defeated people regaining their feet in the world. The photo to the left is a calligraphic-style work of his named 'Strict Orders' - a protest against the bondage of war that manages to make its subject look ridiculous but with depth, beauty and panache.

His most famous work is the 'Sun Tower' in Osaka, erected for the 1970 Expo, incorporating a sun of the past, a sun of the present, and a sun of the future.

Taro Okamoto sculpture - a Jomon era goddess

The range of media he worked in is enormous. As well as sculpting, painting, doing pottery and publishing, he also created artifacts such as the traditional Japanese koi-nobori or carp-streamers. The carp represents vigor and determination in Japan, being fish that, undeterred by the current, swim upstream to breed. These 3D streamers are a common sight in Japan on Boy's Day, puffed out in the wind and writhing colorfully. These are on sale on GoodsFromJapan.

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