tracing back my passion for taiga / by Philip Tarlow

1:04 PM this is an email i put together for some friends, one of whom is an american painter living in japan, who not been aware of taiga. it was an opportunity for me to examine my decade long interest in the 18th c. japanese painter.

Ike Taiga had an exhibition last year at the Kyoto Museum, which was reviewed in the Japan Times:

I’ve been studying his work, without of course being able to see the work in person, for about a decade.I started by making small studies based on the illustrations in one of my 2 books about him & Gyokuran, in gouache on paper.

Along the way, I was working on a series of oils titled Motion; studio versions, in mixed media, of plein air paintings in gouache on paper, made at a local creek over the past 20+ years. Then one day, I launched into this current series: Sound of a Flute. This title is from a translation of a verse in one Taiga’s buddies’ poems,which found its way onto one of his scrolls. The complete verse is: sound of a flute over water, which is exactly the sound Taiga was hearing as he painted at a mountain retreat.

I love that he, his poet friends & musician friends hung out. In stressful times, as often occured just following regieme change, they would go to their mountain retreat & the musicians would play as the poets wrote & Taiga painted. And drank lots of wine.

If you have time to look at my Stories page:, you’ll see that my trajectory includes 15 unbroken years in Greece, where I married & had a son. I speak fluent Greek. I love languages…the sound, the music. I wish I could learn Japanese. In my studio, I often listen to YouTube videos in some obscure indigenous tongue, just to enjoy the music of it. During that Greek period, my mentor/teacher/friend was the great painter:Tsarouchis. When I sent a book of his work to my old friend Henry Geldzahler, at the time curator of 20th Century Art at the Metropolitan Museum in NYC, he responded: Tsarouchis is a major 20th Century artist. We’d like to offer him an exhibition at the (then brand new) PS 1 in Queens. Tsarouchis, busy at the time executing commissions to pay for his newly built neo-classical home & studio in a suburb of Athens, politely declined.

He, I believe, would have understood & supported my strong attraction to Taiga.

Taiga brings together the strands of my history of mark-making. Working on the Sound of a Flute series is already having a noticeable imapct on my plein air gouaches, allowing me to see the trees, rocks & water with new eyes. On the left: one of my 78x26” Sound of a Flute paintings. In the center, a plein air gouache i made a few days ago, which clearly shows the influence of the Sound of a Flute series. On the right: a plein air gouache made before I embarked on my sound of a flute series of oils.

My Big Dream is to show the Sound of a Flute series in Japan. And to give a few illustrated talks on how & why a contemporary American painter came to be so engaged with his work and, after almost 2 centuries, finds it painterly; timeless; relevant.