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  • Dec 14, 2020

Obituary: Tatsuo Ikeda (1928 – 2020)

Portrait of TATSUO IKEDA. Photo by

Tatsuo Ikeda, a pioneering Japanese artist who depicted the horrors of war with images of disquieting creatures, passed away on November 30 from aspiration pneumonia, aged 92. His death was first reported on December 7 by Asahi Shimbun.

An influential figure of Japan’s postwar political art that emerged during the 1950s, Ikeda satirized the atrocities of war in his earlier works, as well as the United States’ presence in Japan and the Japanese government’s abuse of power at the time. This was exemplified in ink drawings such as 10,000 Count (1954), depicting grotesque fish mutated due to an American nuclear bomb test at Bikini Atoll. Similarly, Fishermen’s Boss (1953) criticized the American military for using Japanese beaches to test artillery shells, which affected the livelihoods of local fishermen. Ikeda also portrayed the complex relationships between the US troops and the Japanese people post-World War II.

Ikeda was born in 1928 in Saga Prefecture. At the age of 15 in 1943, he was drafted as a kamikaze pilot, but narrowly escaped a suicide mission due to the end of the war. He was subsequently forced to resign from his post at the Saga School for Training Teachers by the occupying Americans due to his previous military affiliations. In 1948, he moved to Tokyo to study at the Tama Art and Design School, now Tama Art University, where he became associated with key avant-garde figures such as Taro Okamoto and Kiyoteru Hanada. His works during this time were greatly shaped by his experiences during the war, but following the failure of the Anpo protests in 1970 against the US-Japan Security Treaty, Ikeda moved away from politics to focus on cosmological themes such as the origins of life. This is exemplified in his mixed-media on paper series, Brahman (1973 – 88), painted in a surreal, semi-figurative style.

His works have been exhibited internationally, including a large-scale retrospective in 2018 at Tokyo’s Nerima Art Museum, as well as in group shows at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art, Fuma Contemporary Tokyo, and The Warehouse, in Dallas. His works are currently featured in a two-person exhibition with contemporary artist Philippe Parreno at Fergus McCaffrey gallery in New York.

The artist is survived by his wife Noriko Ikeda.

Emika Suzuki is an editorial intern of ArtAsiaPacific.

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