Taro Okamoto

Taro Okamoto 岡本太郎

Taro Okamoto.
  • Taro Okamoto (1911-1996)
  • Prominent Japanese avant-garde artist/sculptor of the twentieth century
  • Japan's Pablo Picasso
  • Born in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture
  • Son of artistically distinguished parents
  • Studied in pre-WWII Paris
  • Fascinated with primitive art

Taro Okamoto was born in 1911 in Kawasaki to artistically distinguished parents, and raised in the Aoyama district of Tokyo. His mother was the poetess and novelist Kanoko, and his father the manga artist Ippei. He began studying oil painting in Tokyo in 1929, but moved with his family to Europe and began studying in Paris in 1930.

An encounter with the works of Picasso in 1932 threw him into the world of abstract art, and the next year he began a four-year association with other abstract artists. He then however began to focus on more realistic forms.

The attraction of primitive art forms for Okamoto led him to study ethnology, psychology, philosophy and folklore at the University of Paris under Professor Marcel Mauss and to associate with College of Sociology member and noted adherent of mysticism, Georges Bataille, and artists like Max Ernst, Andre Breton, and Louis Aragon. He exhibited his work Wounded Arm' at the International Surrealist Exhibition in Paris in the same year the same year his mother died.

He was forced to return to Japan in 1941 with the beginning of WWII, and in 1942 was drafted and sent to fight in China. Upon his return to Tokyo in 1946, he found that all his works had been destroyed in an air raid.

His experience of war turned him against it, and many of his works, such as Strict Orders', are expressions of his anti-war feeling. He set up his studio in Tokyo's Minato Ward. It has been preserved as a museum.

Taro Okamoto.

From 1947 he began to develop and propound an artistic philosophy of his own known as Polarism (taikyoku-shugi) advocating the synthesis of opposites - and in 1948 founded the Night Society (Yoru no Kai) along with critic Kiyoteru Harada with the aim of integrating literature and avant-garde art. His father also died in this year.

1952 was a pivotal year in that he encountered prehistoric Jomon Japanese pottery, inspiring his first mosaic tile mural, Mythology of the Sun. It was exhibited at the 4th Dokuritsu (Independent) Exhibition.

In the years following he continued submitted works to several notable exhibitions, mainly using tiles, and began writing more about art and its primitive roots from his Institute of Esthetic Research that he established in 1954.

Of the total of six books he would write, Today's Art published in 1954 was the most successful, becoming a national best seller.

Taro Okamoto perhaps reached his pinnacle of fame in 1970 with his appointment as Theme Producer for the Expo '70 in Osaka the first world fair to be held in Asia.

Taro Okamoto art.

His most famous work, the Tower of the Sun (太陽の塔, Taiyo no To), was created for this event and featured in the 'Symbol Zone.' The piece has been preserved and can be seen at the Expo Commemoration Park in Suita, northern Osaka.

His next big exposure came in 1981 when he featured in a TV advertisement saying that 'Art is an explosion'.

In 1993 he was made an honorary citizen of the city where he was born, but never lived: Kawasaki, near Tokyo.

Taro Okamoto died on January 7, 1996, of an acute respiratory dysfunction.

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