(Japan, b. 1913 – Brazil, d. 2015)
Tomie Ohtake, née Nakakubo, was born in Kyoto, Japan, in 1913. While visiting her brother in São Paulo in 1936, war broke out between China and Japan, preventing her from returning home. Ohtake stayed in Brazil, became a mother, and in 1952 began her artistic career in earnest. That year, she was inspired by an exhibition of the work of Japanese painter Keisuke Sugano, who later became her teacher. Her first paintings experimented with figuration, but she soon focused her skills and energies on exploring abstraction. In 1953, she joined the influential Japanese-Brazilian artists’ group Seibi-Kai (Grupo de Artistas Plasticos de São Paulo).
Ohtake describes her work as Western with Japanese influences, reflecting her adopted country as well as her homeland and artistic training. While her work resides firmly in the avant-garde of modern informalism, it is also in harmony with the traditional, minimalistic forms of Japanese painting and verse. According to Ohtake, her work exemplifies the philosophy of the haiku: “Haiku poems convey a view of the world in seventeen syllables. My painting also attempts to synthesize forms, reducing images to their essential minimum, and is therefore universal.” The unique process by which Ohtake blends and simplifies (often antipodal) forms creates an extraordinary visual realm in which her every informal gesture emerges as a constructive element, many of them rooted in Japanese calligraphic symbols such as ensō (“circle”), which appears frequently in her work. Some have described her brushstrokes as a “pure Zen experience.”
Ohtake had two solo exhibitions at the Organization of the American States: one in 1968—her first solo exhibition in the United States—and the other in 1995. Besides her works on canvas, she is well known for her architectonic public sculptures.
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