Tominaga Shoen was born in 1929 in Nagoya, Aichi, and aspired to be a calligrapher from an early age, avidly studying the ancient and modern calligraphy of China and Japan.
The action painting of Jackson Pollock began to be shown in Japan in the late 1940s after World War II, and had an impact on the teenage Tominaga. In 1951, when he was 22 and had begun producing avant-garde calligraphy, a turning point came with the formation of Bokujin-kai (lit. “Ink Man Group”) by Inoue Yuichi, Morita Shiryu and others. Morita, already a friend of Tominaga’s, visited Nagoya and invited the young calligrapher, whose works were already earning acclaim, to join the group. Tominaga became a Nagoya-based contributor to the group’s journal Bokujin, a trailblazing presence in Japanese avant-garde calligraphy.
Tominaga’s keenly insightful and dynamic works were published in Bokujin beginning around 1952. In the journal at that time, contributing artists were treated as equals, and often critiqued one another’s works in its pages. Tominaga paid close attention to the work of Inoue Yuichi, a daring calligrapher gaining considerable renown around this time, and Tominaga later recalled that as the group’s youngest member, he strove to stay abreast with senior members and was constantly pursuing new avenues of expression.
Tominaga also took part in the Genbi (Contemporary Art) Exhibition in Osaka in 1955, during which he associated with and was profoundly influenced by members of the Gutai Art Association like Yoshihara Jiro, Shiraga Kazuo, and Motonaga Sadamasa, as well as the Neo Calligraphy Exhibition held in San Francisco in 1956. Around the same time, Tominaga encountered the ideas of Isamu Noguchi, Hasegawa Saburo, and the philosopher Hisamatsu Shinichi, which he cited as being very important to him.
In this way, from the 1950s onward Tominaga engaged with a wide range of people, limited neither to the calligraphy world nor to Japan, all of which played significant roles in his development.
Tominaga came to feel that many of the Bokujin-kai members were too strongly influenced by Inoue Yuichi and Morita Shiryu, and he resigned from the group around 1957. Thereafter he worked an ordinary corporate day job and did not belong to any particular calligraphy organization, but his work was increasingly lauded and he began exhibiting at galleries in Nagoya, Tokyo, and New York.
From the 1950s Bokujin era onward, Tominaga had adopted unconventional approaches such as wiping with enamel, cement, or primer as well as working with sumi ink, and at times drawing with matchsticks or skewers. Around 1985, separately from his work with ink, the artist began producing sculptures made by shaping and welding stainless steel by hand, and collages and mixed media works incorporating ink and crayon. He has said that to him these works, which appear on the surface unrelated to text-based calligraphy, are the same in that they involve expression of space through line. During this period Tominaga explored a range of new artistic approaches, creating painting-like works as well as textual calligraphy and copies after other calligraphic works. However, for the artist, collage and painting were always linked with his vision for calligraphy in ink, and pursuing both side by side enabled him to find fulfillment and arrive at his own truly distinctive style.
The artist has gradually exhibited less since the 1990s, but he continues creating energetically, and since a solo show in 2015 at the age of 86, has returned to working primarily with sumi ink. He produces these pieces by spending days and days forming an image in his mind, then swiftly executing it all in one go. Characterized by spaces with an exquisite balance of black and white achieved through extraordinary compositional ability and brushwork, in terms of technical approach they are the closest he has come over his long career to replicating the style perfected alongside his Bokujin-kai comrades in the 1950s, but at the same time they incorporate his decades of artistic experimentation and emanate a stunningly vivid originality.
Tominaga has frequently said, “The things one has made thus far quickly become old hat. I am always trying to create something new, glowing, and passionate, not weighted down with anything extraneous.” The painter he admires most is Pablo Picasso, and for many years a photo of Picasso with a piercing gaze has hung in his bedroom. At the age of 89, Tominaga begins each morning by looking at Picasso’s face in the photo and internalizing that passionate intensity, which he pours into his work. Tominaga Shoen’s quest for the ultimate space composed of white paper and black ink continues today.
2015年 墨象 Katadoru
2017年 墨象 Katadoru
2017年 ART FAIR TOKYO
2017年 LA ART SHOW