November 25, 2011, opening night at one of Burnaby Art Gallery’s biggest shows in its 50-year history and a key person is a no-show. The artist himself, Takao Tanabe, can’t leave his Vancouver Island home. Gale force winds have not only stopped BC Ferries but also the small planes providing harbour-to-harbour service from Nanaimo to Vancouver. It is not a rare event for west coasters to be stranded by the ferry service in the winter. But also not something Tanabe could have foreseen either.
Gallery director Darrin Martens leads the media tour. We find out that the BAG has been working on this retrospective of Tanabe’s works on paper from 1949 through to 2011 for more than two years. It’s kind of a big deal. When the show finishes in Burnaby, it will begin a cross-country tour including a stop at the McMaster Gallery in Hamilton, Ontario. The BAG is still negotiating with several other institutions including those in Quebec (a French language version of the exhibition catalogue has been printed).
Works on paper involves not only drawings and sketches, but water colours as well; not the large acrylic landscapes on canvas that Tanabe is known for. Still the themes, treatment and the ‘Tanabe style’ , including his unique way of looking at the sky and its relationship to the ground, his vision of the horizon line, are all evident in his 68 pieces at the BAG. They cover his days after World War II, when he had been released from a Japanese-Canadian intern camp on the prairies and began his art practice after attending art school in Winnipeg, to his return to British Columbia’s coast, where he was born in 1926.
Read more about this show, Chronicles of Form and Place: Works on Paper by Takao Tanabe in an upcoming Galleries West review.