Takao Tanabe workshop provides new abstract styles for artists to apply in their work

Attendees were introduced to Tanabe’s versatility from typography to sumi-e

Takao Tanabe’s Forest 5 illustrates the sumi-e technique used in his art. Courtesy of Mira Godard Gallery.

By: Michelle Young, Staff Writer

The Vancouver Art Gallery’s Christina Jones hosted a one-hour Zoom workshop on Takao Tanabe’s work, inspiration, and styles as part of their Art at Home Live workshops. Tanabe is a Canadian painter who studied internationally and is renowned for his landscape pieces. 

I entered the session ready with the paper and coloured pencils it required, but found that the workshop did not provide a step-by-step guide to drawing. Rather, it discussed how artists can take inspiration from certain styles and apply them to their work. The session focused on how to portray “hard-edge” landscapes . 

The workshop began by asking attendees where they feel at ease in nature, with replies in the chat box citing landscapes like oceans and forests. Attendees were presented with Tanabe’s different styles — some pieces more abstract than others. The workshop focused on his rigid and geometric pieces (such as pieces like Gate and Window), and viewers were shown how to use masking tape to emulate Tanabe’s angular style by breaking up landscapes into smaller, simplified shapes. Tanabe’s softer works were also introduced, such as his piece, Dark Hills. The hosts explained how Tanabe aimed to learn a variety of techniques, like typography and sumi-e — the monochromatic Japanese style of ink painting used to create Dark Hills which emphasizes the “quality of the line.”

Throughout the workshop, attendees were asked to describe Tanabe’s work with words and participate in a few speed-sketches to identify the focal points of this work. One of the focal points identified was the harsh emphasis on the horizon line in his landscape pieces that contrast against his softer depiction of other elements in nature. These exercises helped create a concrete association with Tanabe’s abstract style and the conceptual ideas of the workshop, especially as attendees were asked to apply the suggested techniques in their own time. 

While the lack of technical guidance may have been a disappointment to some, I appreciated how viewers were given the opportunity to take the concepts they resonated with and apply them however they pleased in their work. The workshop succeeded in presenting conceptual ideas memorably, and in demonstrating valuable techniques for artists to make their own. 

When asked by the host for advice to give to aspiring artists, Tanabe said they simply need to have “the drive.”

The Vancouver Art Gallery is hosting a variety of at-home lectures and workshops, which can be found on their events page. Past events have been recorded and can be enjoyed on their YouTube channel, including this workshop. Per COVID-19 guidelines, the Vancouver Art Gallery is open to the public as of June 16, with special hours for frontline workers.