Gallery: Art Supermarket
Opening / Event Date: 8 May, 2019
Closing / End Date: 24 Aug, 2019
Axel Vervoordt Gallery is proud to present Ryuji Tanaka’s solo exhibition in Hong Kong in which works from the 60s and the 80s will be shown.
Tanaka was born in 1927 in Hyogo Prefecture, Japan. He later graduated from Konohana Commercial junior High School in Osaka and went on to study nihon-ga (Japanese-style painting) at the Kyoto Municipal School of Painting (now Kyoto City University of Arts). Based on period photographs, Tanaka’s works deviated from traditional nihon-ga composition, displaying a bold quality that presaged his later style. When he graduated from the school in 1948, Tanaka joined a number of friends who had also majored in nihon-ga to found an avant-garde art group called Pan-real2 in an attempt to revolutionize the conservative world of Japanese-style painting. Tanaka left Pan-real three years later. After completing a post-graduate course in 1952, he began to teach art in high schools. In the 1960s, Tanaka subsequently submitted his paintings to various group shows and displayed his work in the Shin-Bijutsukyokai (New Art Association) exhibition, which focused primarily on nihon-ga.
As it happens, Tanaka’s graduation from the Kyoto City Specialist School of Painting coincided with that of Kazuo Shiraga. Shiraga also studied nihon-ga, but he switched to oil painting after graduation. Tanaka, on the other hand, made use of the special characteristics of nihon-ga pigments to develop a new method of painting. Tanaka held his first solo show in Kobe in 1960, and in 1962, he was awarded the nihon-ga Contest Prize in the 5th Contemporary Japanese Art Exhibition. Tanaka continued to pursue the style he developed during this period for the rest of his life.
His materials were mineral pigments, which he applied to a washi (Japanese paper) or canvas support medium. In standard nihon-ga, glue is mixed with the pigment to act as a fixing agent, and the paint is applied with a brush. Though the powdery texture was different, Tanaka added pebbles to expand the pigments and also used adhesive. And rather than a brush, he used a feather, making the paint stream, and blurring the picture. This was apparently inspired by bonseki, a traditional form of interior decoration. In later years, Tanaka added glass powder to the pigments to create white blurs. Oil painting lacked the rough quality of nihon-ga, and while he did make some figurative nihon-ga paintings before the war, Tanaka became known for his non-figurative work.
It was probably also in 1963 that Tanaka began making frequent visits to the Gutai Pinacotheca on Shiraga’s invitation, and participating in group meetings. Eventually, in October 1965, Tanaka became a member of the Gutai Art Association. But after showing his work in the 19th Gutai Exhibition two years later, Tanaka left the group. Tanaka’s style remained unchanged, and he continued showing his work in Shin-Bijutsukyokai exhibitions as well as frequently holding solo shows in the Kobe area.
In the ’60s, Tanaka’s works combined the intensity and delicacy of various hues of black, but in the ’80s and ’90s, they took on a brighter and airy quality through his use of many colors. As Tanaka constantly confronted natural power, he seems to have locked horns with human (or his own) power, and attempted to express beauty through his work while grappling with nature.
In this exhibition, we show two works created in 1963 and the others painted 1981. Using traditional mineral pigments, a traditional type of Japanese paint, these works continue to convey a keen awareness of nature across time.
(Based on the text written by Koichi Kawasaki on the occasion of the monograph RYUJI TANAKA published by Axel Vervoordt Gallery in collaboration with AsaMer, 2016)