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TED KURAHARA – 70 years of abstraction

April 27, 2023

Hosted by The Nippon Club

Photo Caption:
CADMIUM RED MEDIUM AND DEEP, 36 BY 36, acrylic on canvas, 2015.

97-year-old Japanese American artist Ted Kurahara works in a minimal style, transforming color planes into infinite depth.

Ted Kurahara was born in Seattle, Washington, on July 16, 1925. World War II Commenced, and Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941. Shortly after, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, sending Kurahara's family to the Minidoka Japanese internment camp in Idaho with other Japanese people.

In early 1944 at eighteen, Kurahara volunteered to serve in the U.S. Military. He served in the 442nd Regimental Battalion, consisting of Japanese Americans in the Hawaiian Islands and Japanese American volunteers in internment camps in the continental United States. They fought fiercely against the Axis forces on the European front, with a total casualty rate of 314%. It is known as the most decorated unit in U.S. history. At the same time, the 2 nd generation of soldiers who belonged to A Management Information System (M.I.S.) played an active role in the Pacific Theater, using their bilingual English and Japanese skills. After the war, they served as interpreters and contributed to the reconstruction of Japan.

By the time he was shipped back to the United States, his family had been allowed to relocate, and his parents had followed their eldest son to St. Louis, where he attended medical school. The military sent Kurahara to a base near St. Louis, and after being discharged in 1947, he enrolled in Washington University's arts program.

After graduating with a B.A. in fine arts, he relocated to Peoria, Illinois, where he attended Bradley University and received his M.F.A. Following this, Kurahara began teaching at the Springfield Art Association in Springfield, IL, from 1953 to 1956 and then at the University of Iowa. In 1958, he was awarded a medal for his work at the Art in America "New Talent in the U.S.A." invitational exhibition. As one of the few Asian artists in the region, his energetic monochrome abstractions were hailed as blending contemporary American abstraction with traditional Japanese mark-making.

In the late 1950s, a trip to New York to visit friends rekindled Kurahara's desire to pursue his fine art career more seriously, and he and his wife, artist Joan Vennum, moved with their family to Brooklyn in the fall of 1959. He began to exhibit more frequently there and had shows in New York and throughout the U.S. Among his close professional associations was the Mi Chou Gallery, one of the first prominent Asian art institutions on the East Coast, with whom he exhibited frequently. He continued to teach part-time for extra income, including at Pratt Institute, New York University, and Brooklyn College; he also worked as an art consultant for Manhattan.

After a series of white paintings in 1981, he developed the simple, quiet, and enigmatic blocks of monochromatic color that we now know. These works are produced by various inspirations, such as the golden ratio, the tradition of European painting, and haiku poetry, in which countless layers deny all notions of depth and subject.

Mr. Kurahara was awarded a Yaddo Residency Fellowship in 1978 and the Ford Foundation Visiting Artist Program at the University of Washington in 1979. He was also awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1984 and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1985, allowing him to take a one-year sabbatical, and a Creating a Living Legacy recipient from the Joan Mitchell Foundation (2015-2016).

Mr. Kurahara had a brilliant achievement as an artist, received awards worldwide, and his works sold well. However, the Lehman Shock in 2008, the subsequent Covid-19 disaster, and the death of his wife made his artistic activities stagnate. He felt a sense of stagnation as an artist for the first time. However, now he has regained his energy and continues to create paintings. The exhibition at The Nippon Gallery is a renewal for him. The show will introduce Kurahara's recent works, focusing on his works from the hibernation period from 2010 to the present.

Ted Kurahara PortraitTed Kurahara Portrait

PeriodMay 12 – 25, 2023
Hours10:00 am – 6:00 pm (M - F) 10:00 am – 5:00 pm (Sat) (Closed on Sun)
LocationThe Nippon Gallery at The Nippon Club
145 West 57th Street, 7th Floor, New York, NY 10019
AdmissionFree admission
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