Artist to Know: Toko Shinoda

Liz Catalano
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Modern Lithograph Available in Contemporary Japanese Art Sale

Throughout the 20th century, Japanese artist Toko Shinoda built her own Modernist tradition. Her career lasted over seven decades, taking her from the shores of Japan to the burgeoning artist communities of New York. Shinoda was closely associated with Abstract Expressionism. However, she differed from the likes of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko with her experience as a master calligrapher. Shinoda combined the old and the new to become one of Japan’s most beloved Modernists. 

Floating World Auctions will present one of Shinoda’s lithographs in the Modern and Contemporary Japanese Art Auction this month. The sale will start at 12:00 PM EDT on March 20th, 2021, just a few weeks after the artist’s death. Find out more about Toko Shinoda before placing a bid.

Toko Shinoda. Image from Daisaku Sato (STUDIO DAI).
Toko Shinoda. Image from Daisaku Sato (STUDIO DAI).

Toko Shinoda’s parents helped her pursue the scholarly arts from a young age. Her great-uncle was an official seal carver for Emperor Meiji, and Shinoda’s parents pushed her toward calligraphy when she turned six years old. The artist spent years honing her craft. By the start of World War II, Shinoda could support herself with her brushstrokes. She enjoyed solo exhibitions in 1940s Tokyo, which was then unheard of for independent women artists. 

Shinoda traveled to New York after the war concluded. While there, she encountered the Abstract Expressionists. Shinoda saw hints of her own rebellious spirit in their spontaneous tendencies. For years, she felt unsatisfied by the rigid boundaries of calligraphy. Abstraction intrigued her. After spending time abroad, Shinoda returned to Japan with a renewed interest in challenging traditional forms. Her style gradually evolved to incorporate both ancient techniques and avant-garde styles. 

Shinoda embraced an unconventional lifestyle early on. She decided not to marry or have children, instead prioritizing her career path. While Shinoda’s art upended artistic norms, she distanced herself from the unrestrained American Expressionists. Most of her works are clean, deliberate, and symbolic.

“A conservative renegade; a liberal traditionalist; a woman steeped in the male-dominated conventions that she consistently opposed,” Paul Gray wrote about Shinoda for Time magazine in 1983. “Her trail-blazing accomplishments are analogous to Picasso’s.”

Toko Shinoda, Voice of the Moon B, undated. Image from Floating World Auctions.
Toko Shinoda, Voice of the Moon B, undated. Image from Floating World Auctions.

Throughout her career, Shinoda worked with centuries-old black sumi ink. She also regularly produced lithographs in limited runs, occasionally adding a dash of color to the finished prints. Her print editions typically number between 12 and 25. Floating World Auctions will present one of Shinoda’s lithographs this March. Titled Voice of the Moon B, this undated work is numbered and signed in pencil (USD 1,000 – $1,500). It shows two dark color fields beneath a few sharp, angular strokes. A red bar crosses the composition from the left. Shinoda often included a streak of red in her paintings, an homage to the correction marks teachers once left on her calligraphy papers. 

Shinoda resolutely refused any prizes for her paintings and calligraphy works. Instead, she made her living by selling art and poetry books at galleries. That did not prevent Shinoda from gathering public recognition. In 2016, her work appeared on a set of Japanese postage stamps, making Shinoda the first artist to receive such an honor.

Shinoda’s art set a new auction record in late 2020. Sound (Oto) sold for $81,250 at Christie’s against a $35,000 to $45,000 estimate. This work was one of several Shinoda pieces offered in the auction house’s Japanese and Korean art sale. Other large-scale paintings have also entered the market recently. Sotheby’s auctioned Genji for GBP 27,720 (USD 38,720) in November of 2020. Made in 1967, it was once exhibited alongside works by Lucio Fontana and Francis Bacon. Shinoda’s prints are more readily available than her paintings. They typically range in price from $1,000 to $10,000.

Toko Shinoda, Genji, 1967. Image from Sotheby’s.
Toko Shinoda, Genji, 1967. Image from Sotheby’s.

Shinoda continued creating art until her death in March of 2021. She was one of the oldest working artists in the world, passing a few weeks before her 108th birthday. Shinoda secured a lasting legacy, however, often describing her paintings as her children. “When paintings that I have made years ago are brought back into my consciousness, it seems like an old friend, or even a part of me, has come back to see me,” she told The Japan Times in 2017. In museums, galleries, and auctions, admirers may still see and appreciate Shinoda’s old friends. 

Toko Shinoda’s Voice of the Moon B print will be available with Floating World Auctions on March 20th, 2021, starting at 12:00 PM EDT. Visit LiveAuctioneers for more information and to place a bid.

Interested in more artist histories this Women’s History Month? Visit Auction Daily to learn more about Minimalist artist Mona Hatoum.

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