Universe Is Flux: The Art of Tawara Yūsaku
Tawara saw all existence as composed of vibrational energy, made up of wavelike forms he called “hado.” Fundamentally based on Buddhist thought, Tawara translated his vision of reality into paintings with intense visual impact. Highlights of the exhibition include several renditions of the Japanese character “ichi,” which means “one.” Traditionally executed in a single stroke in calligraphy, Tawara painted these ichi with his method of layering innumerable brushstrokes.
Featuring 77 works, mostly in ink on paper, Universe Is Flux will introduce audiences in the United States to this artist’s unique philosophy and its impact on his paintings. The exhibition will feature works created in the 1990s, following Tawara’s several decade hiatus from painting, as well as pieces created just before his death in 2004.
Tawara Yūsaku (1932-2004) was born in present-day Onomichi City in Hiroshima Prefecture. His original name was Okada Toshihiko. He began studying oil painting as a high school student under the tutelage of Kobayashi Wasaku (1888–1974), who gave him the artist name, “Tawara Yūsaku” (the character for “saku” being part of his teacher’s name). In 1951 he entered the Law Faculty of Chuo University in Tokyo. While still a university student he won awards for his paintings, which led to his decision to halt his university studies and turn to painting professionally. He formed a painters’ group with Kizawa Teiichi and Kondo Kazuo.
In 1963, he abruptly decided to put down his brush and quit painting, saying that he came to doubt the validity of his work. Later he often mentioned the opinion of the French artist Balthus, whom he met in 1965, that the oil paintings of Asian artists were lacking in power and that they were indeed more suited to working in ink. In the intervening period before returning to painting, he poured his efforts into polishing his artistic sensibilities through collecting and dealing in ancient and modern art from around the world, and focusing on folk arts and crafts by mounting and writing exhibition catalogues on folk art. His activities brought him into close contact with towering figures in the field such as Hamada Shoji (1894–1978). Through his close friendship Serizawa Keisuke (1895–1984), the textile design artist and Living National Treasure in Japan, he became absorbed in the expressive potential of brush and paper, and he began to paint again in 1993.
Recognized in Japan as a connoisseur, collector and proprietor of a famous folk art shop in Tokyo, Tawara Yusaku returned to painting late in life and had a single show in London before his death in 2004. Universe is Flux is the first examination of his accomplishments within the context of Asian and contemporary painting. The essays by IMA Curator of Asian Art John Teramoto, Stephen Addiss and David Rosand draw on conversations with the artist and notes that he left behind. They discuss how Tawara’s unique methods express his view of art and the universe at large. The essays also examine the work in the context of traditional Japanese and Chinese ink and literati painting, and focus on Tawara’s “Thinking of Leonardo da Vinci” series. Purchase the catalogue from our Museum Store.
Universe is Flux is available for travel. Learn more here.