Born in Waipahu, Hawaii, Tetsuo Ochikubo was a Japanese-American Abstract Expressionist painter, sculptor, and printmaker. Ochikubo served in combat during World War II, and shortly after his discharge from the Army he began to study painting and design at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, later moving on to the Art Students League of New York. He lived and worked in Long Island and Syracuse, New York. In the 1960s, he worked at the Tamarind Institute, a non-profit lithography workshop in Albuquerque, New Mexico; upon his return, he taught at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. Best known for his abstract paintings and lithographs, Ochikubo was a member of the Metcalf Chateau, a group of seven Asian-American artists with ties to Honolulu. Other members included Satoru Abe, Bumpei Akaji, Edmund Chung, Jerry T. Okimoto, James Park, and Tadashi Sato. These artists were all Hawaiian-born modernists who considered themselves nisei (second generation) of Japanese descent, and they derived their name from a house on Metcalf Street in Honolulu, where they exhibited in the early 1950s. Ochikubo, a lover of nature in all its forms, died tragically in a diving accident in Hilo in 1975 at the age of 51.
Untitled is a dark and elegant exploration in natural forms. Painted only a few years prior to the artist’s death, it stands as one of Ochikubo’s most poignant works, and a testament to the fact that he derived much of his inspiration from nature. The expanse of black pigment at center creates the illusion of a chasm or void. The two rectilinear segments of green suggest grass or foliage, while fluid blues allude to bodies of water, active and moving. With its focus on organic form and color, Untitled bears a strong resemblance to the abstractions of Theodoros Stamos. David Behlke, curator of a 2014 Ochikubo exhibition, notes that “when you see Ochikubo’s work, what’s so elegant about it is the blending of the color, the faint little brushstroke…Ochikubo was a colorist. But who uses green against pink and magenta and plum? Nobody.” The artist’s use of color lends Untitled a certain emotive power, and his abstract forms are simultaneously foreign and familiar; the effect is a composition both communicative and enigmatic. Ochikubo himself states of the overarching purpose of his work:
"My ultimate purpose in painting is to be an artist of substance and consequence; to understand and to be understood. I am confident in my work and have progressed, sometimes painfully, surely but slowly. My world is unique. I understand many facets of both East and West. If this area is truly manifest, it is a genuine universal art. I use symbols, non-symbols, and nature to achieve my artistic objectives. While creating, I express only the affection of my subconscious feeling.”
Private Collection, Upstate New York
Joe and Emily Lowe Art Center, Tetsuo Ochikubo: Paintings, Drawings, Lithographs, October 5-30, 1964 (illustrated in catalogue)