The world-renowned artist, painter, sculptor, theorist, and writer, Taro Okamoto is the nation’s pride and a familiar face among the citizens. On February 26, 1911, he was born in Kawasaki Kanagawa, Japan as the eldest son of a famous art maker couple. His mother Kanako Okamoto was a poet and his father Ippei Okamoto was a cartoonist who had western influence. Thus, he was directed to follow the artistic path from a young age itself.
‘Art is Exploration’
He had the privilege to explore the west at the age of 18 when he accompanied his parents while they were studying literature. He majored in Ethnology at the University of Paris and was deeply influenced by culture and art for 10 years. He was swayed by the surrealism movement and the Avant-garde art of Europe. He also played down his experience, expectations, and feelings of meeting and being impacted by the artist Pablo Picasso in the autobiography “Seishun Picasso” (1953).
Below listed are a few of his major artworks throughout his career:
- The Price of Failure/Anguish After Lost Game (“Haizan No Nageki”), 1924
It is the first painting produced in watercolour that expresses his disappointment at losing the spring boat race when he was 14 and emerged as a budding artist. This work is also the oldest surviving work.
- Wounded Arm (‘Itamashiki Ude’), 1936
It was first submitted to Salon des Surindépendant and gained appreciation from critics. This painting depicts the human suffering to overcome pain and was the first work that gravitated Taro towards abstract paintings. Andre Breton, the founder of Surrealism noticed this work and recommended displaying it in Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme, 1938.
- Heavy Industry (‘Jukogyo’), 1949
It was exhibited at the 34th Nika Art Exhibition. This painting predominantly uses bright primary colours to depict Japan recovering and developing after the war. It includes abstract expressions of people undergoing an evolution with the support of technology and industrialization. The use of primary colours is dominant in this artwork.
- The Law of Jungle (‘Mori No Okite’), 1950
This painting is a metaphorical representation of the evil hierarchy in society and depicts the people who are bullied by the power of money. Multiple characters with varied facial expressions can be recognized and it was also exhibited in the later years for public awareness.
- Men Aflame (‘Moeru Hito’), 1955
It was exhibited in the 3rd International Art Exhibition of Japan depicting the destruction and the people being killed in the war following the abstract style of paintings. Taro’s art has encapsulated the use of ‘eyes’ over the years to portray multiple intentions and this painting is one of the many examples of this personification.
- Alien named PAIRA (1956)
It is a remarkable sculpture based on the style ‘Surrealism’ that appears to be a giant benevolent single-eyed black starfish. This character made its appearance in episode 9: Don’t look at the Moon! of the series FlamingoMask. Interestingly, the Paira aliens were advertised as giant rampaging monsters in publicity stills for their 1958 release, despite no such scene taking place in the movie.
- The Myth of Tomorrow (‘Asu no shinwa’), 1969
This massive 30m long and 5.5m high painting is one of the national treasures and a very popular public artwork. Taro was hired and he travelled to make it for a local hotel in Mexico. It portrays the human picture at the time of frightfulness when the US atomic bombs hit the urban communities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II in 1945. However, the hotel was not constructed due to budget constraints and the painting went missing for over 30 years. In 2003, Taro’s adopted daughter went to confirm its appearance at a construction site in the outskirts of Mexico and officially announced its recovery in 2005.
- Tower of the Sun (‘Taiyou No To’), 1970
This sculpture was planned and built by Taro from 1968 to 1970 by three diverse development gatherings. This is a 70-meter high structure, comprising 4 sections: The brilliant veil (the top) addresses the future, the Sun (the center) addresses the present, the dark sun (the back) addresses the past and the face. Antiquated paradise (the cellar underneath the pinnacle) addresses vestige. There is a show “Tree of Life” inside the pinnacle and following 50 years, individuals can visit the pinnacle again in 2011.
- Tree of Children (‘Kodomo No Ki’), 1985
This is a sculpture displayed in front of the National Children’s Center of Japan. Okamoto expressed a variety of colourful faces of children living freely together and wanted to convey that “Humans must accept life as it is.”
- The Gate to the Dynamism (‘Yakudo No Mon’), 1993
Located at the entrance of Urayasu City Sports Park, it is a 52 feet tall sculpture crafted in an avant-garde, abstract style very popular in Okamoto’s work. The sculpture shows five humans in a state of uncertain action, and two hands reaching out to heaven. Its structure is crafted in a peculiar shape that appears to be flowing freely, making justice to its title!
Aren’t these artworks breathtaking and elevate your imagination to a flamboyant comical setup?!
“Art is not well-organized, not beautiful, and not easy to see.”
For him, factors such as skill, aesthetics and softness of the hands have nothing to do with the essence of art. Rather, art really captures and overwhelms the viewer, including its discomfort. Taro managed to inspire countless individuals through his expression of art and leave a significant mark in the society that still continues to grow its legacy.
- Wikipedia Contributors (2021). Tarō Okamoto. [online] Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tar%C5%8D_Okamoto#Artwork
- Anon, (n.d.). 岡本太郎年表 | Taro Okamoto Memorial Museum. [online] Available at: https://taro-okamoto.or.jp/en/taro-okamoto/chorology
- Juliet Art Magazine. (2020). Tarō Okamoto, the Japanese Picasso. [online] Available at: https://www.juliet-artmagazine.com/en/taro-okamoto-the-japanese-picasso/
- nihonmono.jp. (n.d.). Encountering epoch-making art ”The Taro Okamoto Museum of Art” – NIHONMONO. [online] Available at: https://nihonmono.jp/en/area/4920/
- MATCHA (n.d.). Taro Okamoto Museum Of Art – Meet The Artist Behind The Myth of Tomorrow. [online] MATCHA – JAPAN TRAVEL WEB MAGAZINE. Available at: https://matcha-jp.com/en/4042.