Do you know Taro Okamoto? Taro Okamoto is one of my favorite Japanese artists. I still remember, when a long time ago, a Japanese friend asked me: “Do you know the Japanese Picasso?” I had never heard of the “Japanese Picasso” but was intrigued. Was there Japanese artist as amazing as Picasso? I had to find out!
Taro Okamoto was born in 1911 and died 20 years go, in 1996. He is primarily known for his paintings – but lead a very turbulent life – he also lived in Paris for several years, fought in WWII – his life was turbulent enough for him to act as agony uncle for the Japanese “Playboy”. Next to his artist activities, Taro Okamoto was active in a variety of genres: he shot commercials for TV and designed furniture and tableware. His best-known work is a huge tower – the “Tower of the Sun” which he created for the 1970 Expo, held in Osaka. If you are into manga or anime, you might remember the “Tomodachi tower” from “20th Century Boys” by Naoki Urasawa. The tower in the anime and manga is actually an homage to Taro’s work!
The garden of the Taro Okamoto Memorial Museum is great!
Minami Aoyama in Tokyo is a place with an impressive number of design and brand stores and artist galleries. The Taro Okamoto Memorial Museum is located in a quiet alley, just a few meters away from the main street. The first thing that catches your eye is a lot of green! The Memorial Museum – housed in the building where Taro lived and worked – is two-stories tall and surrounded by a magnificent garden. After purchasing a ticket you can explore the garden, a jungle filled with tropical plants and models of famous sculptural masterpieces by Taro One of the highlights is a huge bonshō, one of those bells you often see hanging in Buddhist temples. Only this one is different – there are numerous horns growing out of the bell. The museum staff said that we were free to hit the bell, so I hit it quite hard with the wooden hammer supplied. The bell resounded at such a volume that the entire neighborhood must have heard it area…sorry! Once the sound receded, I hit the bell again more gently – and this time I got it right! The bell produces different sounds depending on where you hit it. How mysterious and still funny at the same time!
A look inside the Memorial Museum
Taro Okamoto’s studio is on display on the ground floor of the Memorial Museum. It has a high ceiling partially going up to the second floor – with its flood of light the perfect place to paint pictures.
Parts of the Memorial Museum have a permanent exhibition on display, but there are also special exhibitions changing every couple of months. I had the chance to see an exhibition on the “Jomon period”. The Jomon period is dates back to 14,000 – 300BC. Pottery from that period has very unique shapes and patterns. His first encounter with Jomon pottery left a deep impression with the young artist. Later, Taro said about his experience:
I was astounded. I had no idea this kind of Japan existed. No, this was the real Japan. I felt my blood grow hotter, my enthusiasm caught fire!
Life and energy
Taro’s artwork was heavily influenced by the flowing, organic shapes of the Jomon era. Inside the Memorial Museum you will find colorful and powerful paintings by Taro that show abstract people, nature and gods. The pictures are captivating and some cases even overwhelming. It sometimes feels like Taro’s passion explodes into the spectator’s eyes or brain! His view of the world and his expressive power is something that should not be missed.
Art is explosion!
This phrase is a famous quote by Taro Okamoto. And it’s very true.
I hope this article made you curious about ”the Japanese Picasso”, and enticed you to visit the Taro Okamoto Memorial Museum. I’m sure that you – just like me -will be fascinated by his powerful artwork!