Taniguchi Shigeru was one of the very first artists that my parents decided to handle when they opened The Tolman Collection of Tokyo. Unlike many contemporary Japanese artists, who deliberately choose and then refine one specific theme throughout their career, Taniguchi’s themes varied widely, based on whatever he was interested in at the time. This led to works of stunning imagination and creativity -- from a series on Noh, to prints inspired by his idols Man Ray and Jasper Johns, to several prints around the theme of brushes, one of which contains an image of my father’s arm brandishing a paint brush in front of the Tokyo gallery. My sister suggested that the print be called “Stroke of Genius”.
Taniguchi was born in Fukuoka in 1948. After finishing high school, he left the southern island of Kyushu and relocated to metropolitan Tokyo. He pursued art part-time while illustrating books and working at a commercial printing company. At one point my father offered him a salary so that he could become a full-time artist without having to worry about how to pay the rent each month, but Taniguchi refused, feeling that this might in some way compromise his creativity. Each new edition of his prints was a huge success with our customers and his silkscreens were accepted by a myriad of international biennales, at several of which he was awarded the top prize. His work was widely exhibited. My parents even had one avid collector who bought a copy of every single one of his editions, sight unseen.
To my sister and me he was just another kind artist uncle who our mother often invited to dinner because she worried that he was not eating properly. Lanky and shy, Taniguchi-san always wore jeans, an immaculate white T-shirt, and sneakers. Endlessly curious and always looking at the world through an artist’s eyes, he would sit quietly in our living room before dinner, slowly sipping a Coke, and going through the American magazines, newspapers and art books that my parents saved for him visit to visit. Taniguchi-san never had the opportunity to travel internationally but he was fascinated by all things foreign. He always enjoyed the meals that our mother made for him, and she would go out of her way to make dishes that he might not have come across before or showcase new ingredients. Japan in the 70s was not yet the foodie Mecca it is today and I remember that capers were a true revelation to him. Taniguchi lived what was, essentially, a rather small life though it was obvious from his art that the world of his imagination was composed of realms and realms of delightful and exuberant possibilities. He was an enigma: a seemingly simple man with a very sophisticated view of the world, at least as expressed through his art.
He once babysat my sister and, while she was not destined to become an art dealer, she certainly had the instincts when younger. My parents returned home to find that Taniguchi had been asked to draw a series of bright blue political caricatures for her, which she had then insisted that he sign and number 1 out of 1.
Everything was grist for his creative mill, and it was always an exciting time when Taniguchi-san came to show us a new silkscreen edition. We often recognized items from our home that we had planned on discarding but that he found exciting – customs forms, luggage labels, discarded tags, stamps, newspapers, photographs – all were incorporated into his work. Revisiting his prints today often feels as though I am viewing a unique family memory album. His silkscreens are therefore very personal to all members of my family, especially the first image above where we are frozen in time, sitting in the living room of our home, also the location of the first Tolman Collection of Tokyo.
At the height of his success as a printmaker, Taniguchi-san announced that he was no longer inspired by the medium of silkscreen and that he had decided to become a painter instead. This led to a decade or so of vivid abstract paintings as shown below. While these are joyful, visually impactful, and I personally love them, they did not enchant his silkscreen fans and he struggled to reach as large an audience as he had enjoyed thus far.
In 2005, a fire destroyed the artist’s home and studio which resulted in a series of strong black and white paintings and then nothing. Taniguchi-san went to work at 7-Eleven to pay the bills while waiting for creative inspiration. At the end of 2008, he disappeared. The Tolman Collection of Tokyo was listed as his next of kin, so we were notified, and Eiji Nagao from the Tokyo gallery had the arduous and depressing task of disposing of everything in Taniguchi’s home. No one has heard from him since, and no body has ever been found.
Had this been an artist who I did not know, I might tell this anecdotally, as a sad cautionary tale of how artists need to learn to balance pure artistic vision with the worldliness needed to do business in the "real" world but, since Taniguchi-san was a beloved intrinsic part of my childhood, his unresolved and unnecessary end remains, to this day, profoundly saddening.
Taniguchi-san was a lovely, sweet man, quiet in person and witty through his art. Fiercely independent and creative, he was extremely talented as evinced by the range shown in the images above. It truly is my pleasure to introduce some of his works to you.