• Brazil hails centenarian abstract artist Ohtake


    SAO PAULO: Japanese-born, naturalized Brazilian artist Tomie Ohtake is being honored after celebrating her 100th birthday this week, with the Sao Paulo gallery named after her and other venues holding major retrospectives.

    The Instituto Tomie Ohtake throws open its doors Saturday to show its “Gesto e Razao Geometrica” (Gesture and Geometric Reason) exhibition of some 80 works—mainly paintings—running to February 2.

    Further Brazilian homage to the Kyoto-born artist will come from the central city of Belo Horizonte, whose Centro Cultural Minas Tenis Clube arts center is displaying 50 paintings, sculptures and engravings at a new gallery.

    Speaking to broadcaster Globo on Wednesday, the day before she turned 100 years old, Ohtake said: “I don’t feel my age. I stay here (working) until it’s time to go to bed.”

    The show in Sao Paulo, home to the majority of some 1.8 million Brazilians of Japanese origin, ranges from oil on canvas works from the 1960s—highlighting Ohtake’s trademark geometric abstraction—to giant creations made out of metal tubing.

    Curator Paulo Herkenhoff called Ohtake, who still works from her home studio, a pillar of contemporary Brazilian art.

    “Unlike Western geometric rationality, Ohtake is constantly experimenting with the imprecise,” he said.

    She made a major contribution to transcultural Brazilian abstract art using “aesthetic images enveloping spiritual values, such as enso, the imperfect circle in Zen Buddhism and the relation of form with shadow—a traditional value of Japanese culture,” Herkenhoff added.

    A twist of fate saw Ohtake leave behind her Japanese roots as she traveled to Sao Paulo in her early 20s to visit a brother who lived in the city.

    She stayed, swiftly marrying and settling down in Brazil, home to the biggest ethnic Japanese population outside Japan. Ohtake had two children.

    Prevented from returning to Japan owing to the outbreak of World War II, she did not make the trip back home until 1951.

    Ohtake returned to Brazil and realized her first paintings when she was 39 years old following a visit to the gallery of fellow Japanese painter Keisuke Sugano.

    By 1957, her works were being exhibited at major venues, including the Sao Paulo Museum of Modern Art.

    Ohtake, who joined US contemporary painter Mark Rothko in rejecting classification of abstract expressionism, took Brazilian citizenship in 1968.

    As her reputation grew, the country came to look upon her as truly one of its own, dubbing her “the grande dame of Brazilian plastic arts.”



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