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Kenzo Okada



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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 unconscious 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 his Abstract Expressionist contemporaries. Like Jackson Pollock and Clyfford Still, he prioritized improvisation and spontaneity through the use of drips, stains, and splatters, yet he also worked out the ideas for a composition in a more methodical manner, integrating natural elements such as sticks, stones, and paper 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, 2021]

  • Artist Kenzo Okada (American, 1902–1982)
  • Title Surge
  • Date 1958
  • Medium Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions unframed | 72 3/4 x 64 in.
  • Credit line Gift of Joseph Pulitzer, Jr., 1963
  • Object number WU 4182
  • Currently on View James M. Kemper Gallery, Room 1

From Picasso to Fontana: Collecting Modern and Postwar Art in the Eisendrath Years, 1960–1968
Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis, 01/23/2015 - 04/19/2015

Abstract Expressionism: American Art in the 1950s and 1960s
Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis, 01/17/1997 - 04/06/1997

Works of Art of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries Collected by Louise and Joseph Pulitzer, Jr.
Saint Louis Art Museum, 01/23/1968 - 03/24/1968

Mr. Joseph Pulitzer, Jr.

Inscription Recto, lower right, in brown-red paint: Kenzo Okada

Label Verso, upper center on backing, browned rectangular label with black-lined border, printed in black and inscribed in black ink: BETTY PARSONS GALLERY / 15 EAST 57th ST., N. Y. C. / Artist / Title / Size [large space] Price [inscribed:] KeNZO OKADA / "SURGE" [large space] (1958) / 73x64 [large space] 3,500

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