Toko Shinoda began her calligraphy works as early as 6 years old, but it wasn’t until 1945 that Shinoda began working on abstract paintings in sumi ink.
Before moving to New York in 1956, Shinoda had little to no knowledge of the American art movement or its artistic luminaries. When she moved there under the guidance of art dealer Betty Parsons, Shinoda was creating large, abstract paintings and prints. In a similar fashion to Jackson Pollock, she would spread out her canvases or paper on her studio floor and work standing up, expressively applying her chosen medium across the large compositions.
Influences from American abstraction and non-objective art are now apparent in Shinoda’s work; an artistic approach and style that remains with her up to today. She recalled her time in New York in an interview with Japan Times in 2017 stating, “At first I was impressed by the freedom that American artists had. In Japan we used to copy the calligraphy of the masters, but at that time in New York artists were expected to produce something new and different. It was the start of abstract expressionism and artists were called on to bring forth new forms. I was able to paint my work, first based on calligraphy, to new forms and shapes and I think that it happened first in New York and then continued when I came back to Japan.”
Shinoda also includes the traditional Japanese practice of yohaku, using negative space as an active part of the composition. Perhaps inspired by her earlier calligraphic works, her work takes various forms of kanji characters and old calligraphic script but abstracts and manipulates the forms to create a non-objective image – the hand applied red ink can also be seen as an homage to her fascination, as well as irritation, by the red correction marks her teachers constantly made on her calligraphy homework whilst in school.