Takao Tanabe

Envelope Sketch, 1967, Takao Tanabe, serigraph, edition 36/50, 15" x 20", 1985.03.13. Simon Fraser Centennial Suite Donation. Gift of Jessie Binning.

Takao Tanabe

Born: Prince Rupert, British Columbia, 16 September 1926

Nationality: Canadian


Takao Tanabe, one of Canada's leading painters and printmakers, evolved from an abstract artist into a landscapist. In his landscapes he eliminates non-essential details, creating serene compositions which reward long contemplation. A distinguished art teacher and arts advocate, Tanabe was long associated with the Banff School of Fine Arts, Alberta.

Tanabe trained from 1946 with Joseph Plaskett at the Winnipeg School of Art, Manitoba, then attended the University of Manitoba. In 1951-52 Tanabe studied at the Brooklyn Museum Art School, New York, under Hans Hoffman and Reuben Tam. He took a class in 1953 at Banff with the British painter William Scott. Back in Vancouver, Tanabe learned typography working for Robert R. Reid and founded Periwinkle Press. After briefly attending Banff School of Fine Arts, Alberta, he traveled Europe for two years, studying at the Central School of Arts and Crafts, London, in 1953. Tanabe learned Japanese ink painting (sumi-e) and calligraphy at the Tokyo University of Arts in 1959-61. He studied with Ikuo Hirayama and Yanagida Taiun, a practitioner of single-stroke Zen calligraphy on a large scale. Tanabe has also admired the quietly powerful art of Caspar David Friedrich and Albert Bierstadt.

The son of a commercial fisherman, Tanabe Tanabe summered in fishing camps on the Skeena River, B.C. He was interned as a Japanese alien during World War II. Tanabe's abstract paintings of the 1950s (Interior Arrangement with Red Hills, 1957) were succeeded in the early 1960s by Japanese-influenced ink drawings (Falling Water, 1967). From 1961 to 1968, Tanabe taught at the Vancouver Art School, painting murals. In 1968 he worked in Philadelphia, moving in 1969 to New York City. Based there until 1972, he painted hard-edge geometric abstracts in strong colours (Untitled No. 4, 1968). These evolved in the 1970s into semi-abstract landscapes dominated by wide horizons, influenced by Tanabe's encounters with northern Pennsylvania, the Hudson River Valley, and the Canadian praire and foothills. From 1973, Tanabe headed the Art Department and was Artist-in-Residence at Banff School of Fine Arts. He moved to Vancouver Island in 1980. Tanabe's quiet, light-bathed landscapes capture the essence of time and place, and reflect his interest in Zen Buddhism. He has exhibited since 1950, earning an international reputation.