Artwork Detail

American, 1902–1982
Oil on canvas
72 3/4 x 64 "
Gift of Joseph Pulitzer, Jr., 1963
WU 4182
One of the most successful Japanese-born painters working in America in the 1950s, Kenzo Okada is known for a mode of abstraction that combines an emphasis on expression of the subconscious with Japanese traditions of seventeenth-century screen painting and Zen Buddhism. Okada’s soft tonalism and subdued palette are more meditative than the vigorous gestural abstraction of some of his better-known Abstract Expressionist contemporaries. Like them he prioritized improvisation and spontaneity—his work often includes drips, stains, and splatters—yet he also occasionally worked out the ideas for a composition in a more methodical manner using sticks, stones, and paper, thus integrating natural elements into the process of creation. "Surge" combines broad passages of blue with slender, gently looping forms and circular shapes that appear to rise up and swell across the background. Its combination of light and dark, heavy and delicate, tangible and immaterial suggests an aesthetic of balance and harmony. Okada lived in Japan during World War II and the subsequent US occupation, and he saw in abstraction a universal “world character” that would renew artistic production in the postwar period. [Exhibition label, 2015]