Toko Shinoda (篠田 桃紅, Japan / China, 1913-present) is a Japanese artist known for her elegant and bold sumi-e (ink paintings) and lithographic prints. She lived and exhibited in New York during the Abstract Expressionist movement and continues to work today in Tokyo.
Born in Dalian, Manchuria, China, Toko Shinoda and her family moved back to their native country, Japan, two years after her birth. At age 6, Shinoda learned waka poetry, calligraphy, and sumi-e (sumi, meaning ink, and -e meaning paint) from her father. She continued her artistic studies throughout her early life and first exhibited her work at age 20 in Tokyo. By her 30s, she was using ink to create abstract paintings. In part with her unique style and recognition from the influential art dealer Betty Parsons, Shinoda moved to New York in 1956 and displayed her work in many solo exhibitions. She adopted there the postwar artistic movement of abstract expressionism. Shinoda took inspiration from abstract expressionists like Jackson Pollack, Barnett Newman, Helen Frankenthaler, and Robert Motherwell. Shinoda moved back to Japan in 1958, but continued to create artwork with a free and loose style like the other contemporary artists in New York.
Throughout her career, Shinoda never strayed from her chosen medium: sumi (ink). Shinoda uses ink stones made of soot (or cinnabar for red) to create the loose pigment that is bound with animal glue. Some of the ink bars Shinoda uses date back to the Ming Dynasty in China (1368-1644), when it was first created for the purpose of calligraphy. Shinoda adds water collected from rain on the rocks near her home overlooking Mount Fuji and turns the bars into a workable medium. Part measures of ink to water control the tone of black. She applies the ink on paper or hemp canvas with brushes that vary in size. Individual brushstrokes are controlled with pressure and swift movement. Shinoda, in her formative artistic career, began making lithographs to mass-produce her work. Lithography also allows her to make spontaneous drawings directly onto stone, like sumi-e. Shinoda, after every print, paints on top of the works to ensure each piece embodies her signature mark and touch. Each painting or lithographic stone requires great control because every mark on the paper can not be reversed, unlike an oil painting. Shinoda’s abstract work invites open-ended interpretation and speculation from the viewer. Shinoda explains her artistic process by stating, “Certain forms float up in my mind’s eye… I try to capture these vague, evanescent images of the instant and put them into vivid form.” Often, Shinoda’s images allude to nature and the stages and rhythms of life. She expresses this vitality with expressive repetition and clean lines. Shinoda is also known to highlight the negative space in her prints, a traditional Japanese practice known as yohaku. The negative space acts as an active part of the composition.
Shinoda sublimely merges abstract and non-objective art with traditional and mandated Eastern art practices, which makes her a pioneer and artistic revolutionary in her own right. Shinoda never joined any specific schools or styles in Japan and continues to create art in her personal studio. Shinoda has participated in the prestigious annual CWAJ Print Shows in Tokyo, Japan for over 40 years and has exhibited all over the world. She is represented by the Tolman Collection in Tokyo, the largest publishers of contemporary Japanese graphic art, and exhibits annually as a solo artist. Her commitment to her art has also extended beyond conventional painting and printmaking. Shinoda produced a large-scale mural for the Tokyo Olympic Games’ National Stadium in Yoyogi. She also designed a mural and sliding doors for the Zojoji Temple in Tokyo. Shinoda is one of the first female artists of the twentieth century to collaborate with architects and interior designers by producing designs for theater curtains, ceramic reliefs for building exteriors, and etchings for stainless steel elevator doors. Shinoda also authored several successful books and essays. The Singapore Art Museum held a retrospective of Shinoda’s oeuvre in 1996- a notable achievement. Shinoda was the first Japanese artist to receive such an honor in Singapore, a notable achievement considering past political conflicts between the two nations. In 2005, Toko Shinoda was selected among the “100 Japanese People the World Respects” by Newsweek (Japanese edition). Shinoda’s work can be found in major collections like the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo, Art Institute of Chicago, Hague National Museum, British Museum, Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Guggenheim Museum. Shinoda still lives and works in Tokyo.