Takao Tanabe

B. 1926 -

Takao Tanabe, one of Canada's leading painters and printmakers, evolved from an abstract artist into a landscapist over the course of his career. A distinguished art teacher and arts advocate, Tanabe was long associated with the Banff School of Fine Arts, Alberta

The son of a commercial fisherman, Tanabe summered in fishing camps on the Skeena River, B.C. During World War II he was interned as a Japanese alien. 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. 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.

In 1959 Tanabe travelled to Japant to study Japanese ink painting (sumi-e) and calligraphy at the Tokyo University of Arts. After he returned, Tanabe's abstract paintings of the 1950s were succeeded by Japanese-influenced ink drawings.
From 1961 to 1968, while teaching at the Vancouver Art School, Tanabe also painted a number of murals. From 1969 to 1972 while based in New York City, he painted hard-edge geometric abstracts in strong colours. 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. He has earned an international reputation exhibiting since 1950.

Order of Canada
Order of British Columbia
Member of Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.
Emily Carr Foundation Scholarship.

"…the views I favour are the grey mists, the rain-obscured islands and the clouds that hide the details. However much we desire order and clarity in all the details of our lives, there are always unexpected events that cloud and change our course. Life is ragged. The typical weather of the coast is like that, just enough detail to make it interesting but not so clear as to be banal or overwhelming. It can be a metaphor for life.'"

  • Takao Tanabe, in an artist's statement of Oct. 12, 1999, cited by Roger H. Boulet in his essay in the exhibition catalogue Takao Tanabe: Wet Coasts and Dry Lands (Kelowna Art Gallery, Kelowna, B.C., 2000), at p. 13