Toko Shinoda Painter and Printmaker Extraordinaire

Distinction REV
Distinction, an original painting.

Steve here: I have asked longtime Tokyo resident and modern Japanese print and painting expert, Norman Tolman, to share with us about one of his favorite artists.

Norm Tolman: Toko Shinoda continues to confound the critics with her work as she has from its very beginning.  Is it traditional?  Well the materials are – hand-made washi and mashi paper, silver, gold, and platinum leaf, old sumi ink of various ages, and Ming dynasty vermillion ink over 500 years old seem to qualify as "traditional."  If all these traditional materials are employed why does her work look so fresh, and if the artist really is 98 years old, then why do her paintings seem so strong and vigorous as if they were made by a strong young man?

Shinoda is arguably Japan's leading woman artist, painting original works in sumi ink on such select materials as silver, gold, and platinum foils, and handmade Japanese paper. (This artist is also well known as a maker of lithographs.)  Her singular accomplishments are great, and the numerous collections in which she is represented are overwhelming; perhaps it is most significant to note that her work hangs in the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, in His Majesty's private dining room, only one of many such places where only the best will do.

Vermillion Vigor REV
Vermillion Vigor, an original painting.

Ms. Shinoda spent a considerable amount of time visiting and working in New York from the 1950s and gained a certain reputation at the Betty Parson's Gallery, home to many of the greats such as Jackson Pollack, Robert Motherwell, and Franz Kline.  Although there is a certain resemblance to these artists' work, Miss Shinoda always explains, "We all had Abstract Expressionism, but of course I also had Calligraphy.”  She returned from the US permanently in 1958 and quickly became a fixture in the Japanese art field though, due to an independent mindset, refused to join any group, movement or trend.  To this day she has remained true to this independence and credits her success to that fact.

Ancient Dream REV
Ancient Dream, a small edition lithograph.

Despite her age, Shinoda still works every day.  In addition to her paintings and lithographs, she is also a writer of some acclaim and has won awards for her talents.  She is the author of several books, one of which has sold more than 65,000 copies.  Active and enthusiastic to this day, as HIH Prince Takamado said in the introduction to the book, “Toko Shinoda, A New Appreciation,” "The artist has not lost any of her youthful freshness or sharp sensitivity, without which she could never have created such bold and vigorous works."

Mystic Texts
Mystic Texts, a small edition lithograph.

David Elliott, the former Director of the Mori Art Museum seems to have got it right when he writes that Shinoda has refused to conform to any kind of stereotype and has challenged many of Japanese art traditions.   Moving away from constraints that were widely accepted, she broke with the strict rules of calligraphy and started to make abstract paintings in a way that allowed her to express herself more freely.  She concentrated on the creation of original forms and developed a stylistic vocabulary that has come to characterize her work.  Her paintings, whatever their size, have the dimensions of cosmic dramas.

Norman Tolman has been running the renowned Tokyo-based gallery, The Tolman Collection, for over 35 years.