Japanese artist Toko Shinoda was born on March 28, 1913, one hundred ten years ago today. In the early years of the 20th century, the art world was rapidly changing, and Shinoda’s work helped accelerate that change on a global level.

I first saw a piece of her work in San Francisco in the mid70s. I owned a small ad agency, and one of my clients was John Simmons, owner of the retail group—47 company-owned and franchised locations—known by his name, The Shops of John Simmons.

He owned a small Shinoda, maybe 13 x 18 inches, and while small, it mesmerized me. It took my breath away. It looked like visual poetry to me.

John saw me studying the piece and tilting my head like a curious cat to see it from different angles. He said, “Isn’t it glorious?”

John described everything he enjoyed, admired, or was expensive as “glorious.” And when he said “glorious,” he used an extended southern accent, so the one word sounded like three. (It was much like the accent that Olivia Dukakis developed for her character, Clairee Belcher, in Steel Magnolias.)”

Toko Shinoda (Japanese, b. 1913) Forms, 1968, Size: 22.25" x 18", 57 x 46 cm (irregular sheet); 27.25" x 23", 69 x 58 cm (frame).
“Toko Shinoda (Japanese, b. 1913) Unseen Forms, 1968, Size: 22.2″” x 1″”, 57 x 46 cm (irregular sheet); 27.2″” x 23″, 69 x 58 cm (frame).”Toko Shinoda (Japanese, b. 1913) Unseen Forms, 1968, Size: 22.25″ x 18″, 57 x 46 cm (irregular sheet); 27.25″ x 23″, 69 x 58 cm (frame).

I bought a Shinoda, Unseen Forms, in 2015, and I’m still tilting my head and studying it. Turns out, John was right—her work is glorious.

Writing Shinoda’s obituary for the New York Times, Margalit Fox noted:

A painter and printmaker, Ms. Shinoda attained international renown at midcentury and remained sought after by major museums and galleries worldwide for more than five decades.

Her work has been exhibited at, among other places, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York; the Art Institute of Chicago; the British Museum; and the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo. Private collectors include the Japanese imperial family.

Akiko Takesue of the Royal Ontario Museum writes:

While her abstract works are often categorized as painting today, Shinoda did not identify herself as either a calligrapher or a painter. She maintained a fine balance between calligraphy and painting, “a rare artist whose modernism is rooted in tradition without compromise in either direction,” as described by the art critic John Canaday in the New York Times in 1972.

Shinoda and her works refuse definitive categorization, and she transcended the boundaries of geography; the limiting definitions of what is Eastern and what is Western; the sense of time, of past versus present; and the restrictions of social expectations and cultural philosophies.

篠田 桃紅

Bottomline: Her work is glorious.