The sweeping views depicted in the ink paintings of Minol Araki now on display at the Minneapolis Institute of Art reveal an artist with both a panoramic vision and an eye for intimate, expressive detail.
While the exhibition includes dozens of works on paper by the Japanese artist — an accomplished industrial designer who considered himself an amateur painter — it’s constructed around five monumental, multipanel ink paintings that astonish in their scale, often wrapping around two or three gallery walls. Stretching up to 70 feet in length, they depict traditional landscapes, mythological dragons, the famous snow monkeys of the Japanese archipelago and a lotus pond — each painting so large that they are best viewed not from a single, far-off vantage point but up close in a slow stroll from one end to the other.
Araki was born in China to Japanese parents in 1928, and grew up in Manchuria during its occupation by the Japanese. The family moved back to Japan after World War II, when Araki was a teen, but not before he began a lifelong study of East Asian painting traditions.
His later success as a businessman allowed Araki to travel throughout Asia and North America. The subject of a 1999 retrospective organized by the Phoenix Art Museum, Araki began exhibiting his work only late in life and remains relatively unknown in Japan following his death in 2010 in Tokyo.
His practice incorporated both Eastern and Western influences. Works from the late 1970s show Araki absorbing the splashed-ink technique of Chinese painter Zhang Daqian, who he met in 1973, but the spreading pools of black and sometimes blue or green ink in these paintings also recall Abstract Expressionist works.
In “Boundless Peaks,” the first of the monumental paintings viewers encounter when they enter the exhibition, those pools of ink teeter between representation — of a mountainous, cloud-draped landscape — and abstraction. The horizontal scroll is dotted with villages, trees and rocky outcroppings, rendered with a level of detail and delicacy that draws the viewer in and serves to counterbalance Araki’s bleeding ink washes.
It was through Zhang that Araki encountered an original scroll painting by 17th century Chinese artist and calligrapher Bada Shanren. In one of the show’s most entertaining detours, Araki works through the influence of both Bada’s work and a loose self-portrait by American artist Ben Shahn, executing a series of portraits and animal paintings that demonstrate bold, spontaneous brushwork and an expert use of negative space.
“Boundless Peaks: Ink Paintings by Minol Araki”
When: Through June 24
Where: Minneapolis Institute of Art, 2400 3rd Ave. S.