Printmakers You Should Know: Tōkō Shinoda

Today we'll take a look at an artist I've only just recently learned about: Toko Shinoda (1913-).

Image courtesy of
Born in Manchuria, Shinoda was raised in Japan, where her great uncle served as official seal-carver to Meiji emperor. He passed on a passion for calligraphy and Chinese poetry to her father, who in turn passed it on to her. Calligraphy and its intimate relationship with poetry, along with the formal abstraction of calligraphy itself, has played a profound influence on her work throughout her career.

Shinoda Toko, Movement and Stillness, 1964, ink on paper. Image courtesy of
During the 1950s Shinoda became familiar with the New York art scene, and more specifically Abstract Expressionism. Early in the decade MoMA had featured her work in a calligraphy exhibition, which traveled throughout North and South America and consequently introduced her art to Western audiences. She spent about several years traveling back and forth between Japan and New York, with her work being shown in galleries that featured such Ab Ex greats as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and others. Throughout this period she pushed the spontaneity of calligraphy, distilling its formal vocabulary into powerfully evocative yet succinct mark-making. The concept of empty space, or yohaku, plays a critical role in her work, and reflects her mastery of essential lines. Nothing more is needed to make her compositions feel balanced yet dynamic.

Shinoda Toko, Boat, n.d., two-panel screen, silver on blue paper. Image courtesy of
As a printmaker, Shinoda prefers lithography because its use of tusche on stone most closely represents the tactile drawing experience of sumi ink on paper. She often will add hand-drawn calligraphic lines into these prints, enhancing the uniqueness of the physical object. Of all printmaking techniques, lithography is among the most technically difficult to master, yet Shinoda's prints exude a sense of effortless grace, underscoring her discipline and skill as an artist.

Shinoda Toko, Fugue, 1984, lithograph, ink on paper. Image courtesy of

Shinoda Toko, Floating, 1980, lithograph. Image courtesy of

Shinoda Toko, Chronicle (Monogatari), 1982, lithograph, ink on paper. Image courtesy of

Shinoda Toko, The Fulfillment, 2005, color lithograph, ink. Image courtesy of

Shinoda continues to make art into the twenty-first century, and just celebrated her 100th birthday in 2013. Who says you can't make compelling art into old age? 

Shinoda Toko, Ancient Dream, 2007, lithograph with hand-applied ink. Image courtesy of
What strikes me about Shinoda's work is how much it underscores the influence of Japanese aesthetics on modern and contemporary art. From a formal perspective her work brings to mind Signe Stuart and Martie Zelt, two New Mexico artists inspired by Japanese art and philosophy to varying degrees. As an artist who constantly struggles to leave off details in my work and to embrace the interaction between positive and negative space, I can't help but admire the minimalist power of Shinoda's prints and paintings. Here is an artist who paints minimally because she doesn't need to rely on details to carry her compositions. Her bold, elegant lines alone are enough.