A piece from the “Fruit of the Redwoods” series by Taiji and Masako Arita
I first saw Taiji’s work in the spring of 2009 at Luz Harvey’s 3g Gallery in Fort Bragg. Luz was showing Taiji and Masako Arita’s collaborative series “Fruit of the Redwoods.” I, like most who saw the work, was awestruck by its beauty and solemnity. By utilizing salvaged slabs of ancient redwood, fire and the woodworker’s traditional craft of carving into relief, the Arita’s had created not just one, but over 30 strikingly beautiful and wholly unique works of art. The methods and materials used were primitive, even elemental, and yet the end result was sophisticated, refined and utterly modern. Such is the work of genius.
Admiring as I was of their work, it would not be until the fall of that year that I would finally meet Taiji and Masako. They came to one of the first open studio events that I held with my exploratory small group art project; Studio Odd Hours. They instantly made a very strong impression upon me. Their presence and demeanor, much like their work, was elegant and self-assured, yet warm and unassuming. The effect was one of style and taste incarnate. Over the coming months Taiji and Masako would continue to attend our open studio events, and we would develop a good rapport.
By the spring of 2010 I had decided to put on a large group show, here, at the Odd Fellows Hall. I wanted Taiji and Masako to join in. Along with my partner Inga Ilze Peterson, we went to the Arita’s house to meet with them and to discuss our ideas for the show. To our great pleasure they agreed to participate, and participate they did, significantly so. Between the two of them they created 19 new works of art for the show, including what I consider to be one of Taiji’s finest paintings; the large scale abstract that graces the cover of the book PURE.
Some of the work by Taiji and Masako Arita included in the August 2010 Odd Fellows group show.
The show was up during August of 2010, and it was at this time that Taiji told me of his illness.
Studio Odd Hours would put on two more group shows during Taiji’s life, and he would contribute work to both of them. These last two shows, one at the College of the Redwoods in March 2011, and the other at the MAC in May 2011, would also feature work from several of the Artists in Fort Bragg’s Art Explorers program.
Taiji passed away in July of 2011.
It was shortly after Taiji’s passing that Masako asked Inga and me for two favors. 1) To produce a book about Taiji’s life in California, and 2) to put together a retrospective of his work. We of course agreed without hesitation. Over the coming weeks and months the three of us worked together laying out the details of the project. One of the first things we did was communicate with Janet Self from FLOCKworks (the non-profit that facilitates the letting of the Odd Fellows Hall). We were able to secure the August 2012 slot. The show would open several weeks after the first anniversary of Taiji’s passing, and two years exactly from our initial showing with Taiji.
Though this building could easily be filled with Taiji’s work alone, Masako asked that we invite the Art Explorers to participate as well. She and Taiji both admired and felt a connection to the honesty and sheer creative drive with which these Artists practice their craft.
As for Inga and myself, though we had both seen and been impressed with examples of Taiji’s work dating back to the 1970’s, it wasn’t until Masako opened up their collective photo archive that we began to understand and appreciate the overwhelming magnitude of this one man’s creative prowess and dedication. For Taiji, Art was life. It was in everything he saw, and everything he did, and it was a constant throughout his life.
Outside of his multitude of paintings, photographs, sculptures, drawings, prints, sketches…even the house that he built, this reality of Art as a life force becomes most significant in the manner in which he and Masako approached and documented his illness, the efforts to treat that illness, and ultimately the inevitability of facing his own death.
For Taiji, to make Art was to embrace the natural world, to embrace honesty and unequivocal truths. In a word Taiji Arita was Pure.
Jason A. Cowan