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Tominaga Shoen was born in 1929 in Nagoya, Aichi, and aspired to be a calligrapher from an early age, studying ancient and modern calligraphy of China and Japan. In 1951, he had begun producing avant-garde calligraphy, a turning point with the formation of Bokujin-kai (lit. “Ink Man Group”) by Inoue Yuichi, Morita Shiryu and others. 


Tominaga also took part in the Genbi (Contemporary Art) Exhibition in Osaka in 1955, during which he associated with and was profoundly influenced by members of the Gutai Art Association, as well as the Neo Calligraphy Exhibition held in San Francisco in 1956. 


From the 1950s Bokujin era and onwards, Tominaga adopted approaches such as wiping with enamel, cement, or primer as well as working with sumi ink, and at times drawing with matchsticks or skewers. By 1985, he then produced sculptures welding stainless steel by hand and mixed media works from ink and crayon. His works are shown to consistently represent the expression of space through lines. Tominaga also created painting-like works and textual calligraphic works with his vision for calligraphy in ink to find fulfillment and arrive at his own truly distinctive style.


The artist has gradually exhibited less since the 1990s, and since a solo show in 2015 has returned to working primarily with sumi ink. Spending days forming the mental images, he swiftly executes it all in one go. Characterized by spaces with an exquisite balance of black and white, in terms of technical approach they are the closest he has come to replicating the style perfected alongside his Bokujin-kai comrades in the 1950s. At the same time, they incorporate his decades of artistic experimentation and emanate originality. At the age of 89, Tominaga Shoen’s quest for the ultimate space composed of white paper and black ink continues today.

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