- Seizo TashimaIllustrator–Japan
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Seizo Tashima (born in 1940) has been active at the front lines of the picturebook genre since the 1960s—a golden age of Japanese picturebooks—and even at the age of seventy-six, he continues to produce powerful, passionate, and ceaselessly innovative works. He has published some 150 picturebooks of tremendous variety, some funny and fun, others serious stories of war, as well as folk-tales and books for babies.
Running through all his works, we can sense a consistent spirit; the wellspring of his art is the vigor and vitality of life and the slow-burning anger at war, destruction of the environment, discrimination, and the logic of the strong that threatens life. His Boku no koe ga kikoemasu ka (Can You Hear My Voice?)—one of the titles in the joint project Picture Books for Peace from China, Japan, and Korea—he says, "is an appeal not only to children but adults to transcend differences of nation and ethnicity in protest of the cruelty of war."
Tashima is a determined innovator in the picturebook genre, with the success of his works prompting him to immediately put aside the laurels and resolve to open up something completely new. The bold and primitive-looking technique of his 1967 work Chikara Taro, done in opaque earth paints, set the style for his depictions of character and life force through the various eras of his career. While his medium has branched out to lithographs and even nuts and berries gathered in the forest, invariably, it is audacious and diverse page compositions that rivet the reader and drive the stories forward.
Always an activist artist, around 1970, Tashima was at the center of the picturebook artists who opposed the Vietnam War. In the 1980s, even before the Art Brut movement came to Japan, Tashima had seen its value and begun exchanges with the members of the Shigaraki Seinenryo home for people with learning disabilities. In the 1990s, he threw himself into a residents' movement opposing construction of a waste disposal facility in their vicinity. Today, he is a regular participant in art and installation projects all around Japan. In all cases, his activities are extensions of the style of expression of his picturebooks.
Tashima received international recognition from an early stage in his career—receiving the Golden Apple Award at the 2nd Biennial of Illustration Bratislava (BIB) in 1969—but he has been considered somewhat of an outsider in Japan because of his rebellious stance and constantly innovative endeavors as an artist. Yet he has had a definitive influence on younger picturebook artists, not only in Japan but other parts of the world. Tashima has gone on shifting techniques and forms of expression with each new endeavor he undertakes, his work continuously challenging the boundaries between picture-books and fine art. In 2009, he created a "walk-in picturebook" that opened in an abandoned school in Niigata prefecture. [End Page 55]