A Well

A WELL, 1966
by Kenzo Okada (Japanese/American, 1902-1982)
mixed paper collage on primed canvas,

Reference#: T1613

signed Kenzo Okada, lower left

Height: 70 inches (177.8 cm.)
Length: 84 3/4 inches (215.3 cm.)

Born in Japan in 1902, the son of a wealthy industrialist, Kenzo Okada was to become the first Japanese-American to receive national acclaim as an Abstract Expressionist. Although his family was opposed to his artistic pursuits, the young Okada persevered and entered Tokyo Fine Arts University in 1922. In 1924, he traveled to Paris, where he lived as a starving artist who focused primarily on landscapes and urban subjects in the Western style. There he met contemporaries such as Alberto Giocometti and Tsugouhara Foujita. After exhibiting at the Salon d’Autonne in 1927, he returned to Japan to teaching stints at the School of Fine Arts, Nippon University, and later at the Musashino Art Institute, Tokyo.
Still working in the figurative style, Okada set off for New York City in 1950. After encountering the Abstract Expressionist movement, though, his work dramatically changed. His creations displayed a Japanese sensibility of color tonalities that were new to his work. His style was set apart by an “organic disposition of varying forms and solid color areas produced by several coats of pale colors.”1 Describing an Okada show at Betty Parson’s Gallery on West 57th Street in 1967, New York Times art critic John Canaday wrote, “Mr. Okada practices superlatively a quiet, poetic abstract landscape painting that seems almost old-fashioned nowadays. But for viewers seeking a meditative retreat from works that hop, op, pop, jiggle or rumble, time spent in the presence of these low-keyed canvases should be most rewarding.”
Although he remained in the United States for the rest of his life, he made frequent trips back to Japan to refresh his consciousness of Japanese aesthetics. By the end of his life, Okada had created a unique style, one that “transcended the boundaries of the abstract and the figurative.”2

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