gallery view of looking in / looking out
In 2013, Norman Takeuchi wrote:
“The duality of being Japanese-Canadian is at the heart of my work. As a member of a community that experienced the upheaval of the internment years, the art reflects conflicting views: the earlier difficulties of acknowledging my Japanese heritage and the eventual acceptance of it. The fusion of dissonant abstract forms with painted reproductions of Japanese woodblock prints, Noh theatre masks and other motifs from old – and modern – Japan hint at an uneasy search for harmony and balance between two worlds. Ultimately though, the paintings are a celebration of a dual heritage and of having learned to embrace the blended beauty of two cultures.”
Takeuchi’s paintings dynamically express and reclaim his Japanese-Canadian heritage using iconic imagery and swirling abstractions. His most recent collection of canvases are exceptional representations of his mature style: a genre all its own in the story of art-making in Canada.
With this series, his process starts with small collaged ‘sketches’ of fragmented imagery and visual juxtapositions. Once becoming large-scale acrylic paintings, their meanings are amplified. For example, two paintings depict Mount Fuji and Peggy’s Cove glimpsed between randomly-shaped fields of colour and pattern. Here Takeuchi suggests the innate human need for recognizable imagery – symbols that represent identity – in a world of contrasting ideologies. But there is also playfulness in these compositions, showing the artist’s more relaxed approach to his work in recent years.
A graduate of the Vancouver School of Art, Takeuchi’s early career combined exhibition design (Expo 67, Expo 70, Canadian Museum of Nature) with painting. In 1996 he left his design career to become a full-time artist and has since participated in many solo and group exhibitions. His work is represented in the permanent collections of the Canada Council Art Bank; Carleton University Art Gallery; Confederation Gallery, Charlottetown, P.E.I.; The Ottawa Art Gallery; Mitel Corporation; and in private collections in Canada and abroad.
On the Edges of Noh February 2014 exhibition at General Fine Craft:
Norman lives and paints in Ottawa, Ontario. A graduate of the Vancouver School of Art, his early career combined exhibition design (Expo 67, Expo 70, Canadian Museum of Nature) with painting. In 1996 he left his design career to become a full-time artist.
He has since participated in many solo and group exhibitions across Canada and internationally including: Balancing Act II (Cube Gallery – Ottawa, ON 2013), Hair Lines (with Karen Jordon, Mississippi Valley Textile Museum – Almonte ON 2012), Available Light (National Art Gallery – Islamabad, Pakistan 2009), A Measured Act (Japanese Canadian National Museum – Burnaby BC 2007), Without A Passport (Karsh-Masson Gallery – Ottawa ON 2006), Kimono Alterations (Sans Souci Gallery – Merrickville ON 2002) and the Sixth Biennial of Canadian Art (National Gallery of Canada 1965).
His work is represented in the permanent collections of the Canada Council Art Bank, Carleton University Art Gallery, Confederation Gallery (Charlottetown PEI), Ottawa Art Gallery, Mitel Corporation and in private collections in Canada and abroad.
NORMAN TAKEUCHI: ON THE EDGES OF NOH
at General Fine Craft, Art & Design February 4-March 2, 2014
For some artists, making art can be a deeply personal and challenging process – painful at times, riddled with self-doubt and taking years to achieve real creative satisfaction. But the results, over time and transitions, can be life-changing.
The development of Ottawa, Ontario artist Norman Takeuchi’s work can be described as a journey through cultural identification and aesthetic experimentation peppered with peer encouragement and, as Norman says, “lucky” opportunities.
The Takeuchi family was one of a handful of Japanese Canadians living in Westwold, a small farming community in the interior of British Columbia. They moved there from Vancouver, anticipating the implementation of the War Measures Act of 1941 which stripped the rights of twenty-two thousand Japanese Canadians as free human beings, labelled them “Enemy Aliens”, and restricted them from living anywhere within 100 miles of the B.C. coast line. The Act, motivated by fear, paranoia, racism and opportunistic politicians, devastated the lives of first and second-generation Japanese Canadians – honest, hard-working people not deserving of such upheaval and humiliation.
Norman Takeuchi was a child when all this was happening and, like any child, he went about the business of growing up somewhat oblivious to the hardships his parents felt. After finishing high school and an obligatory year of working for his father (a landscape gardener), he enrolled at the Vancouver School of Art (now Emily Carr University of Art and Design). His early interest in art had been heightened when first seeing “an actual painting” hanging in the home of one of his father’s clients. Art school was a delightfully eye-opening experience for Norman; a bold introduction to his new life as an artist.
Takeuchi studied painting and commercial art, taking a job with an advertising company after graduation. Nine months later, he received a scholarship to paint in London, England where he explored abstract expressionism, sharing a flat with two other young artists. This was 1962-63, when David Hockney’s Royal College of Art graduation show was shaking up the art establishment with its pop sensibilities. Norman’s eyes were again opened to the exciting evolution of movements in art and culture. Before he left, he was offered a solo exhibition at London’s Thames Gallery.
His London studio sojourn expired, Norman returned to Canada in need of a steady income. Friends directed him to Ottawa where he was hired as a junior exhibition designer for Montreal’s Expo 67. He worked with Tom Wood and Robin Bush on the Canadian Pavilion, an experience he found exciting, creatively rewarding and which would provide future career opportunities. By now married to Marion, he received a Canada Council grant for another year of studio work in London. His exhibition design career continued when in 1970 he and Marion lived in Osaka, Japan working on Expo 70 for 6 months. When they returned to Ottawa, Norman was hired as an exhibition and graphic designer with the Canadian Museum of Nature, where he remained for 25 years.
During this time he painted little, but life drawing sessions every Sunday at the Nepean Visual Arts Centre kept him engaged creatively. He moved into using chalk pastels and then acrylic paint on canvas and paper. Tom Wood encouraged him to take art-making more seriously so he began to explore working in series: first milkweed studies, then bone drawings, then abstracted imagery, leading to total abstraction. This process of series allowed him to explore ideas to their fullest.
By now, Norman and Marion were living on a hobby farm near Ashton (west of Ottawa) where they kept two horses. Always inspired by his love of nature, they lived on the farm for 19 years before moving back to the city. Norman is keenly aware that his art career would not have progressed as it has if it wasn’t for the vital role Marion has played in providing support in countless ways: as organizer, archivist, bookkeeper, gentle critic; so much so that it is impossible to not view the two as a team.
Takeuchi’s Japanese heritage was becoming more important to him when, in 1995, he saw an exhibition of dyed and painted kimonos by Japanese master Itchiku Kubota. These triggered something in him and inspired him to start using the iconic imagery of Japan as the next theme in his work. With this, he began to “visually interpret” who he was, dealing with long-held emotions surrounding the internment years and his own cultural identity.
In 2005 he met Ottawa writer, lecturer and independent curator Maureen Korp who invited him to participate in an exhibition she was organizing at Karsh-Masson Gallery entitled Without A Passport. It explored a diverse group of artists’ cultural identity experiences and brought Norman some critical notice, leading to other successful shows, both group and solo, in Canada and abroad.
His iconic Kimono series was followed by a series that specifically looked into his struggles identifying as Japanese Canadian. This lead into the series entitled On The Edges of Noh, currently showing in Almonte at General Fine Craft, Art & Design. (Almonte-area residents may recall his 2003 solo show From The Ground Up at Philip K. Wood Gallery and 2012’s very memorable Hair Lines at the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum in which he presented larger-than-life exquisite conté drawings of fellow exhibiting artist Karen Jordon’s wrapped and twisted hair sculptures.)
On The Edges of Noh is an overview of his 2010-13 series using Noh mask imagery. Noh is an ancient traditional form of Japanese theatre incorporating drama, music and dance with actors as human and ghost characters wearing beautifully carved and painted wooden masks. In his work, Takeuchi isolates the mask for its iconic quality, then incorporates abstractly painted areas. The colourful mask imagery is purposely fragmented, emerging or disintegrating in and out of agitated abstraction and areas of pattern. The contrast of these two elements represents his unsettled feelings which have surfaced over many years of personal reflection.
Through creating these iconic series of paintings and pastel drawings, his painful family history and his own “uneasiness with shame and anger” have given way to reconciliation, healing and the ability to embrace his Japanese heritage. Indeed it is the dual experience of Japanese and Canadian heritage that he embraces here. Takeuchi’s approach to art-making is “a conscious attempt to find new ways of expressing these very things”. His next series of paintings (showing in March at Ottawa’s Cube Gallery) goes beyond the mask. He’s not sure what to make of it yet but, rest assured, it’s all part of “the natural progression of taking chances” that he thrives on.
–Richard Skrobecki, with Norman and Marion Takeuchi
On The Edges of Noh continues February 4-March 2, 2014