Toko Shinoda

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Toko Shinoda is one of Japan’s most celebrated artists of the 20th and 21st centuries. She began learning calligraphy at age 6, and now at the age of 105 she is still painting with ink. Shinoda uses traditional materials to create paintings and prints in a modern Abstract Expressionist style.

Her father began teaching her traditional Japanese calligraphy when she was 6 years old, and she became devoted to exploring the art form. Shinoda began publicly exhibiting her calligraphy at age 20 and also began teaching it. In her 30’s her calligraphy style became more abstract, as she sought a more personal form of expression. Eventually she transitioned from calligraphy into creating paintings with ink.

In 1956 Shinoda moved to New York, staying until 1958. During this time her work was displayed in many solo exhibitions in galleries across the US. She also had the chance to view the work of other contemporary artists, many of whom made a big impression on her, and inspired her to work in a more free and loose style once she returned to Japan.

In each piece Shinoda attempts to convey a vision in her head inspired by something in the natural world. With each brushstroke she attempts to capture the fleeting movements of clouds, flames, grasses and flowers in the breeze, or reflections of light on water. She prefers to keep her work abstract, so that each piece is open to interpretation by the viewer, and each viewer can interpret it in a different way.

While her style is abstract, her materials and working methods are traditional. She uses the best quality sumi ink cakes or sticks, some dating back to Ming Dynasty China. To create the ink, water is added to her ink stone. The water is sometimes collected from rain dripping off rocks near her home overlooking Mt Fuji. The ink stick is ground into the water until she achieves the desired tone of black.

Shinoda uses many different sizes of brushes to create overlapping strokes of black ink in various tones, occasionally mixing in other colors such as silver and gold. After 1960 she also began creating lithograph prints. Unlike the woodcut or etching technique, lithograph allows her to work in a manner very similar to painting. She applies the ink directly to a plate, then creates 12-55 copies of the image. Shinoda often adds a few hand-painted strokes of ink onto the surface of each lithograph print, so that in the end each is a unique work of art.

Unlike an oil painting that can be revised and changed, each brushstroke is permanent and ink immediately soaks into the paper. It requires the artist to have great control of the brush, yet holds the potential to convey a fleeting moment or thought like no other medium. In each piece she seeks a delicate balance of lines, forms, and colors that express her vision. Toko Shinoda has remained devoted to her work by immersing herself in it every day. She doesn’t have a rigid work schedule, but picks up her brushes each day as inspiration hits. Her devotion to her craft has paid off, as her paintings and prints can now be found in the best galleries and museums throughout the world.

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