Born in 1926 in the fishing community of Seal Cove, British Columbia, Takao Tanabe moved with his family to Vancouver in 1937. His life was uprooted in 1942, when he and his family, among the 22,000 Japanese Canadians dispossessed and displaced by the government during the Second World War, were sent to an internment camp in the interior of B.C. Despite this challenging early life, Tanabe went on to forge a career that has changed the way we see and understand this country and its landscapes.


In Takao Tanabe: Life & Work, author Ian Thom explores the artist’s extraordinary story and legacy, illuminating his many magisterial works and unique vision that began in 1946, when, after a series of manual labour jobs, Tanabe signed up for a night class in sign painting at the Winnipeg School of Art. He soon discovered a world of artistic opportunities outside of commercial work and began to flourish as a student at the Winnipeg School of Art, his singular approach continuing to evolve over time and with travel. Stints in New York, London, and Europe during the early 1950s piqued his interest in abstract experimentation, while a 1959 trip to Japan introduced him to traditional calligraphy and sumi-e (Japanese ink painting).


In the early 1970s Tanabe began his Prairie paintings, a series that would cement his reputation, distilling vast expanses of land into evocative images that blurred the lines between representation and abstraction. A move back to B.C. in the 1980s led him to reconceive the coastal landscapes of his childhood. In addition to his own widely celebrated creative accomplishments, Tanabe has played an integral role in supporting new generations of artists as a teacher, philanthropist, and advocate. His contributions to the arts in Canada are unparalleled.


Ian Thom is an author and art historian who spent more than thirty years as a curator at the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG). At the VAG and other institutions he organized more than one hundred exhibitions on Canadian and international art. He is the author of books and catalogues on David Milne (1992), Takao Tanabe (2005), and Gordon Smith (2014), among others. In 2008 he was appointed to the Order of Canada for his contributions to Canadian art.

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