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.
"I don't classify myself as an abstract artist. If the feeling is abstract, then yes, I am painting abstract -- the feeling and the subconscious emotions are slowing pushed out."
Uninitiate stands as a visceral record of one of the most productive periods in Ochikubo's career. Throughout the 1950s, the artist exhibited regularly in Hilo with a group of seven Asian-American artists native to Hawaii, known collectively "The Metcalf Chateau." Ochikubo, a founding member and fervent proponent of Abstract Expressionism, can be credited in large part with the spread and popularization of the movement in Hawaii. Uninitiate, in both title and composition, conjures notions of Otherness, the idea of living as an outsider in a strange realm. His use of strident black line reinforces that motif, while as a whole his unfamiliar and almost alien forms seem to suggest cursive-like calligraphic scrawls-which in his work can resemble to Asian characters, as David Behlke, curator of a 2014 Ochikubo exhibition has noted-that remain illegible to any viewers on the outside. Utilizing staining and washing techniques, Ochikubo has imbued Uninitiate with a number of different textures and levels of intensity, which taken together form an automatist study in line and shape. The effect is mystical and almost otherworldly. Ochikubo states that his use of symbol is directed at a communicative aim:
"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."
Krasner Gallery, NY
Private Collection, Upstate New York