Shinoda Toko


Snapshot of a great, world-class female artist today

An interview with Shinoda Toko
Iwaseki Tomoko, Gallery Sakuranoki
Date: 2012 2.20

This March, an exhibition devoted to the work of March-born Shinoda Toko will be held at Gallery Sakuranoki Ginza.
The nom de plume “Toko” (consisting of the characters 桃 for peach and 紅 for red/vermilion) was taken by Shinoda’s father from a line in the ancient Chinese text Shi gé that translates as, “Blown by the spring breeze, flowers are blooming in different hues: peach blossom in red, plum in white, roses in purple.”
Shinoda will turn 99 this year. I joined her in the Minami-Aoyama studio where she still labors at her inkstone daily, to talk about the upcoming show.

While abstract painting opens up myriad endless spaces depending on the person who sees it, calligraphy is different, being enjoyed within one space, one realm. Within me, you see, lie not one but two things.

Shinoda Toko became familiar with sumi ink at the age of five, was seduced by the beauty of ink at fourteen, and during her thirties, established an abstract ink-painting style unfettered by conventional calligraphy forms. Having represented Japan, including showing her work at the Japanese government pavilions of trade and cultural expositions, not long after the war she embarked on a solo journey to the United States, from 1956 onward staging numerous solo exhibitions in the US, and Europe. Having swiftly earned glowing international reviews, she remains a frontline player on the global art scene even today, with works in the collections of many renowned art museums outside Japan including the British Museum, MoMA, and Guggenheim. In recent years these have been joined by further institutions, such as the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

Iwaseki: May I start by asking about the title for this exhibition?

“On grass, under flowers On a stone, under trees”

Shinoda: They’re both the kind of spaces, good spaces, people can possess. And two of my favorite phrases. On a stone under the trees is a learning space of sorts, a slightly tough training space people need to pass through. On grass under the flowers is a relaxed, happy space. Both are wonderful places to be.

On the topic of this matter of two different spaces, abstract painting allows people to exercise their own vision with total freedom, doesn’t it, because it appeals to the viewer via color and form and lines. As an art form of the perceptions, abstract would have to be the purest. Call it the power to aid, to guide perhaps, the workings of the human heart… “Calligraphy” on the other hand, used in the writing of literature, is limited solely to a certain single realm. Neither is superior or inferior to the other, both are important types of work within me, there being two things within me.

I imagine the viewer also has two things going on: times when they want to give free rein to their imagination and sense all kinds of worlds from an abstract painting, yet also times when, for example when they are fatigued, rather than engaging with the painting in a flight of fancy, they prefer to rely on what is generated by the “calligraphy.”

“On grass, under flowers,” gold paint/platinum leaf, 40 X 160 cm


”On a stone, under trees,” ink, gold paint/platinum leaf, 40 X 160cm


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“Toko Shinoda” Print exhibition

September 7 ~ October 8 . 2018

at Gallery Sakuranoki KARUIZAWA
closed on Tuesday Wednesday Thursday