Kazuo Nakamura and Patterns in Landscape
In the Indigenous and Canadian galleries of the National Gallery of Canada, adjacent to the Fred and Elizabeth Fountain Garden Court, hang two paintings by Canadian artist Kazuo Nakamura: Landscape, Spring (1959) and August, Morning Reflections (1961). Both are landscapes – lines of trees in the distance, mirror reflections of the scenes in the water. There is something calm and peaceful about the muted greens and aquamarine blues. Repeating patterns wiped into the paint make these tranquil landscapes both exciting and harmonious.
Nakamura (1926–2002) believed in “universal patterns” found in nature, which were based in science and geometry. Works such as the Gallery's two landscapes illustrate the artist’s fascination with these universal patterns. As journalist Robert Fulford cites in his 1956 article in Mayfair magazine, Nakamura observed that “there’s a sort of fundamental universal pattern in all art and nature. Painters are learning a lot from science now. In a sense, scientists and artists are doing the same thing. This world of pattern is a world we are discovering together.” Nakamura was deeply inspired by both science and art history.
Nakamura was a founding member of Painters Eleven and, although he may not be a household name in Canadian art, many of his works have become iconic. Born in Vancouver, B.C., on 13 October 1926, he was the second of five children. From an early age, he showed great interest in painting and became fascinated by his uncle’s Japanese art books and art magazines, as well as by reproductions of French Impressionist paintings. He received his first art training when he enrolled in the applied arts program at the Vancouver Technical Secondary School in 1939, specializing in drafting and design.
In 1942, however, his studies came to halt when Canada invoked the War Measures Act during the Second World War. Like many other Japanese Canadians, Nakamura and his family were sent to a Japanese internment camp in Tashme, B.C., where he created early paintings and sketches. In 1944, with the family home seized and sold, and unable to return to Vancouver, the Nakamuras would relocate to Hamilton, Ontario.
After the war, Nakamura began attended evening art classes. At the age of 22, he began studying at Toronto’s Central Technical School, graduating in 1951. In October 1953, he took part in The Abstracts at Home, a seminal exhibition held at the Simpson’s department store in Toronto. The exhibition featured the artists who would later become Painters Eleven, a group of abstract artists who exhibited together between 1954 and 1960, ushering in a new era in Toronto painting.
The two Nakamura landscapes on view at the Gallery were painted around the time Painters Eleven disbanded. These works combine his experimentation in abstraction with his interest in landscape, and belong to his highly popular “blue/green or reflection works.” They remind the viewer of summertime at the cottage and the stillness of a quiet lake surrounded by nature.
Kazuo Nakamura's works are on view in Room A111 at the National Gallery of Canada. Share this article and subscribe to our newsletters to stay up-to-date on the latest articles, Gallery exhibitions, news and events, and to learn more about art in Canada.