Star-Bulletin Features

Tuesday, September 14, 1999

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Toddler Sage Clark-Tabura gazes at "Aquarius," a
mural by Tadashi Sato at the state Capitol rotunda.

Unique vision of
Tadashi Sato to grace
Maui college walls

His latest project is a
$200,000 commission at Maui
Community College

By Gary T. Kubota


TADASHI Sato was a struggling artist working as a security guard at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, when actors Charles Laughton and Burgess Meredith and a Broadway producer visited his apartment to look at his work.

They bought seven paintings. Laughton acquired three.

"From that point on, I never worked part time. I was able to work as an artist," said Sato, 76.

More than 40 years later, Sato is acknowledged by art experts as one of the most accomplished artists in Hawaii.

Most of his paintings hang in private collections, but a number of his works are on public display in Hawaii.

The one with the greatest public exposure is "Aquarius," a circular ceramic floor mural at the state Capitol.

Others on display include a floor mural entitled "Submerged Rocks and Water Reflections" at the Shinmachi Tsunami Memorial in Hilo and also a painting entitled "Nakalele" at the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu.

Sato is working on a $200,000 art commission -- two mosaics, one glass and the other marble -- at Maui Community College.

By Gary Kubota, Star-Bulletin
Tadashi Sato in his studio on Maui.

"He's certainly one of Hawaii's senior artists, one of the handful of top artists," said Jay Jensen, senior curator of the Contemporary Museum in Honolulu. "He has a unique vision. It's not easy to compare him to others."

Lisa Yoshihara, curator for the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, described Sato's artistry as a blend of western techniques with eastern sensibilities.

"When you look at all his work, you see there is an Asian influence there," Yoshihara said. "As for his style, he is respected as one of the fine abstract painters in Hawaii. He definitely has his place in history."

The grandson of of a sumi painter in Japan, Sato was among a group of Japanese-American veterans who emerged as artists in New York after World War II.

He worked reproducing maps and translating the names of Japanese locations for the U.S. armed forces and later used the GI Bill to attend classes at the Honolulu Academy of Arts before moving to New York to study at the Brooklyn Museum Art School on a scholarship.

His brush strokes have been described as intricate, reflecting painted objects like facets on a gem.

Sato's studio in a residential section of Lahaina overlooks the ocean and West Maui Mountains -- two subjects that have appeared in a number of his paintings.

Resting against the walls are three paintings in various stages of development.

He says he doesn't know which painting will be completed first and is reluctant to define the source of his inspiration.

"The feeling that comes forth is very often at an unconscious level," he said. "Sometimes, it springs out instinctively."

He smiles as he describes his childhood in Lahaina. His father operated a candy store across from Kamehameha III School near the ocean, where he went spearfishing for lobster, aholehole and moi.

He made his spear from cutting the wire from bed coils, pounding the metal until it was straight, then heating it and bending it into a barb. A strip of rubber from an inner tube was used to make the sling.

Sato still goes fishing every week but now uses a pole and line or casting reel. One of his favorite fishing places is Nakalele, which he has used as a subject in his art.

A number of his paintings are abstractions of the ocean and submerged stones -- a combination of blues, greens and darker shades.

In his series of paintings about the West Maui Mountains, he uses vibrant colors to depict the Lahaina countryside in deep rust reds, oranges and blues.

One of them, "Profile West Maui," is hung inside the Kamamalu Building, which houses the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.

Yoshihara said in recent years, Sato has created paintings with balanced abstract compositions, monochromatic shapes that move from dark to light.

"You get this relative feeling of meditation," she said. "It's all about balance, composition, and weight. Most of his works are balanced through asymmetry so you don't get bored with it."

Artist Ben Kikuyama said Sato was an inspiration to him at age 10 when he visited the studio and received a couple of boxes of pastels.

Kikuyama said at age 25, he was discouraged about his work after a particularly brutal critique of his painting by a juror. He spoke to Sato about the criticism.

He said: "You have to find your own design. Everybody has their own unique way of painting. He said not to listen to this guy, to just move forward and keep pounding away, and you'll find your way of doing it."

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