Seiso (Elapse) 1954, sumi, washi paper 140 x 69
The Chinese character “river” is written with three strokes; it cannot be written with five or seven strokes. The rules for writing these characters are established and may not be deviated from. Soon after the end of World War II, Toko Shinoda as an artist began to explore her discontent with these rules, saying she began wanting to “draw countless vertical lines, as if they went on forever.” Just as she was beginning to attract a great deal of attention as an up-and-coming female calligrapher in Japan, she went to the United States by herself in September 1956. In leaving Japan, she ventured to see how her works would be viewed and evaluated in places where Japanese (Chinese) characters are not read as meaningful words.
The center of the Abstract Expressionist movement around that time was New York, where Jackson Pollock had developed his unique style of painting, dripping and pouring paint onto the canvas, and Willem de Kooning, too, had come out with a vigorous gestural style of painting. Artists from around the world broke with established concepts and expanded the potential of expression, transcending ethnic background and genre. In New York, where over 400 galleries competed intensely for the attention of art lovers, Toko Shinoda was able to hold a solo exhibition at the Bertha Schaefer Gallery, one of the city’s best galleries. The works in sumi ink by the previously unknown artist from Japan won great acclaim as art such as never seen before. During her two-year stay, she held solo exhibits in Boston and various other venues around the United States. For Toko Shinoda, who had been searching for a new form of expression unconstrained by anything, the energy of New York, pulsing with activity and appreciation for individual creativity, was the source of great encouragement and freedom.
Seiso (Elapse), produced in 1954, was shown at her solo exhibit held (at Yoseido Gallery, Tokyo) in March-April 1956, less than half a year before her departure for the United States. The lines, bursting with her desire to create, dance freely over the space. The overlapping of dynamic lines like dismantled characters “undecipherable but beautiful” is the result of her pursuit of purely visual beauty, breaking completely free of the meaning of characters. Flowing strokes and an automatism that excludes intentional drawing as much as possible in the process of production reflect not so much avant-garde calligraphy as modern fine art. At that point of time, Toko Shinoda had already begun her quest for new expression that transcends the boundaries of calligraphy and painting as well as the boundaries of Japan.