Kenzo Okada

Japanese/American, 1902-1982

Untitled, c. 1970, paper collage on canvas, 36 x 48 inches

Wanting to be a painter since age 15 Kenzo Okada went against his father’s wishes regardless. He attended Tokyo Fine Arts University and studied Western art tradition there; going to Paris in 1924 to study on his own. Meeting Alberto Giacometti in Paris, Okada returned to Japan in 1927. Now having been inspired by Western art he returned to Japan to paint. Exhibiting in Japan, his work matured and Okada eventually emmigrated to the United States in 1950.  Here Okada began a successful career paintings where his contemporaries included Marie Laurencin, Bradley Tomlin, Clyfford Still, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Betty Parsons, Mark Rothko, Nishita (Japanese philosopher), and Mark Tobey.

A realist painter in Japan, in 1950 when he moved to New York City, Okada produced abstract paintings. Undoubtedly stimulated by Abstract Expressionism, these paintings displayed a strong Japanese sensibility and feeling for form. His paintings from the 1950s reveal subtle changes in the natural world through the use of imagery constructed with delicate, sensitive color tonalities, floating within the compositional space. In 1953 he began to exhibit his abstract expressionist paintings with the Betty ParsonsGallery in New York City.

During the 1970s he painted numerous works that used as a point of departure the reinterpretation of the decorative effects of traditional Japanese painting.

Okada evokes the aura of landscape by using earth colors, abstract patterns hinting at rocks and flowers, and an overall haziness that makes his scenes look submerged in water. Bringing an Asian sensitivity to the New York School of abstraction, Okada distills the essence of nature into his painting, making it seem elemental and thus sublime. Okada became friends with Mark Rothko and many other abstract expressionists, especially the early color field painters. His sensitive and personal style of abstract expressionism, with his Asian roots, relates directly to both color field painting and lyrical abstraction.