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Arts & Entertainment - August 23, 2013

From evanescent to vivid

Stanford exhibition pays tribute to 100-year-old artist Toko Shinoda and her prolific career

by Rebecca Wallace

Toko Shinoda first became acquainted with a brush and sumi ink in 1919, and her brush is still flowing across the paper. At 100, she continues to capture the natural world in her minimalist, abstract paintings, employing sumi and cinnabar ink as well as gold, silver and white paint at her atelier in Japan.

"Certain forms float up in my mind's eye," Shinoda said in an artist's statement. "Aromas, a flowing breeze, a rain-drenched gust of wind ... the air in motion, my heart in motion. I try to capture these vague, evanescent images of the instant and put them into vivid form."

Strong yet serene brush strokes fill Shinoda's work with blacks and grays, highlighted by her signature touches of red from the cinnabar ink. "Vermillion Breeze," for one, is geometric and bold, with angular shapes in red, black and white, while "In Days to Come" is all optimistic lines stretching up to the sky.

Shinoda has been exhibiting since 1936. Her art is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the British Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Imperial Palace Residence in Tokyo. So Norman Tolman, owner of The Tolman Collection gallery in Tokyo, decided that the perfect present for her 100th birthday would be to put on a series of retrospective exhibitions of her paintings and lithographs. The current show has just opened at Stanford Art Spaces on campus.

About a dozen retrospectives are planned. Already, exhibitions have been shown at the Musee Tomo in Tokyo and have traveled to the Japan Society in New York and the Portland Japanese Garden in Oregon, with a concurrent exhibition at the Lesley Kehoe Galleries in Melbourne, Australia. (Each show contains a different array of artwork.)

The Stanford show, featuring eight paintings and 42 lithographs by Shinoda, will be here through Oct. 17. Later exhibitions are planned for Singapore, Hong Kong, London and other places, Tolman said.

"I have expended great effort as my 100th-birthday present to Miss Shinoda, who has made a great difference in my life," he said.

The Stanford show also marks another milestone: the 50th anniversary of Stanford's Inter-University Center of Japanese Language Studies, an intensive language-training program in Yokohama. Tolman graduated from the center's third class 47 years ago.

While Shinoda no longer does lithographs, she paints every day, Tolman said. Many of the current and upcoming exhibit venues have had long relationships with her art. The Hong Kong show, for example, will be sponsored by a bank that has owned many of her pieces for 25 years. She still paints in the traditional manner, using handmade Japanese and Chinese paper, sumi ink (which is made from plant soot and glue), and vermillion ink from Chinese Ming Dynasty pigments.

Shinoda has been pivotal in Tolman's career as an art dealer. After serving in the Foreign Service, he decided to switch careers and "introduce Japanese contemporary prints throughout the world," as he put it in a foreword to the Shinoda exhibit catalog at the Musee Tomo. He met Shinoda by chance while he was still a budding art dealer, and they forged a friendship and business partnership.

Since then, he estimated, he has sold 10,000 of her lithographs and 1,000 of her paintings over four decades of working together. In turn, the artist has advised him on local protocol, etiquette and organizing exhibitions.

"Many people are unaware that there is really no place to study how to become an art dealer. But it doesn't just happen," Tolman wrote. "I take the greatest pleasure in admitting that I am the only art dealer trained by Toko Shinoda."

Born in Manchuria in 1913, Shinoda concentrated on calligraphy in the early years of her career. In 1953, her work was chosen to be part of "Japanese Architecture and Calligraphy," an exhibition by the Museum of Modern Art in New York that toured the United States. She spent time in the U.S. and was influenced by the Abstract Expressionist movement.

By 1960, she was producing lithographs as well as painting. Murals, too, entered her oeuvre, including a 1964 creation for Yoyogi National Stadium in Tokyo. Her art has become popular with collectors in many countries.

Today, Shinoda's work is still reaping praise as it travels from city to city in the series of retrospectives. In May, Japan Times art critic Jerri Donovan gave the Musee Tomo exhibit a glowing review, writing: "Calligraphy is an art that is unforgiving of ill-made strokes. So too is Abstract Expressionism, the international art movement that influenced Shinoda's work. Her strokes are well and carefully thought out, but executed with a determination, suppleness and immediacy."

What: "A Lifetime of Accomplishment," lithographs and paintings by 100-year-old Japanese artist Toko Shinoda

Where: Stanford Art Spaces exhibits work mainly in the Paul Allen Center for Integrated Systems at 420 Via Palou, Stanford University, with some other pieces in the Packard Electrical Engineering Building and the psychology office in Jordan Hall.

When: Through Oct. 17, open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cost: Free

Info: Norman Tolman is scheduled to give a talk about Shinoda's art at 6 p.m. Sept. 9 in the Paul G. Allen building's 101X auditorium. For more information, go to or call 650-725-3622.


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