By Anu Sahota
In December 1961, the weekly, half-hour arts and culture magazine Lively Arts aired a feature on West Coast painters Jack Shadbolt, E.J. Hughes, B.C. Binning, Gordon Smith and Takao Tanabe. The program explored the influence of British Columbia's physical environment and natural forms on their work. Tanabe was born in 1926 in Seal Cove (now part of Prince Rupert), British Columbia. During the Second World War, he was interned in the interior of the province with fellow Japanese-Canadians.
A student of abstract expressionism in his early years, Tanabe soon began to recognize the hard-edged aspects of his surrounding seas and skies. His canvasses so vividly capture the buttermilk tones and brooding horizons of their settings - whether it be the Prairies or the Cariboo - there can be little doubt the artist is married to Canadian environments.
And yet, unlike his contemporaries, Tanabe's heritage has routinely been invoked in discussions of his technique - an interpretation that Tanabe has long been underwhelmed by: "people say there is a Japanese influence in my work today but I don't believe it...I nod my head now because I'm too tired to argue, but I don't believe it." This question of whether there is an essentially Japanese aspect to his approach is one that Tanabe still dismisses. When I spoke to him earlier this week from his home on Vancouver Island, the 81-year old artist was amused that I had even considered him as a subject for Asian Heritage month. I dare say he bristled at the idea.
A more recent glimpse of Tanabe from 1996 features the artist at work in his Parksville studio. Also included is footage of an internment camp from the Slocan Valley where Tanabe was interned in 1942 (runs 1:34)