The artworks introduced here are all monuments that say something about the relationship between nature and humanity in the global environment and familiar living environments. Using themes related to the natural environment, Tanabe expresses universal social ideas no longer found in many works of contemporary art.
Why is universality associated with nature? This is an fundamental issue in Tanabe's art. Nature tends to be thought of as opposed to human beings, but it goes without saying that human beings are an element of nature and the minds of human beings are also a part of nature. We know intuitively that external nature is the agent that programs our inner nature, our minds. I believe that this unconscious awareness is on a higher level than religious experience. This is why external nature is recognized as something fundamentally valuable and beautiful. There is a mechanism at work here that Tanabe uses effectively.
In ancient times, people living in the caves of Alta Mira prayerfully painted the forms of wild animals (nature) that were needed for survival. These animals were beautiful as well as necessary. The survival of contemporary human beings is also assured by a proper relationship with nature, a fact that is attracting much attention today. Tanabe expresses this connection between the natural environment and the survival of humanity.
MOMI - Wild Rice, 1999 Photo: Naoki Takeda

The use of such motifs as birds, lizards, and wild rice suggests that he has abandoned the kind of art generally recognized by contemporary society and returned to the roots of art. The people of Alta Mira probably did not have a concept of art as such. They simply painted things essential for their own survival and by so doing created extremely effective works of art. Tanabe's art is a contemporary version of the Alta Mira cave paintings.
Tanabe uses a variety of methods in order to transform his subject matter into an effective message. He increases the scale of the work. He enlarges small, ephemeral things. He makes the work stronger and more durable than is physically necessary. He chooses sophisticated technology. And he incorporates the surrounding environment as a part of the work. All these methods are the fundamental features of a monument.
Perhaps the most important general characteristic of Tanabe's work is its formal perfection. The basic forms of contemporary sculpture were developed rather quickly after its beginning by Brancusi, Noguchi, Giacommeti and others. Later artists were faced with the difficult problem of going beyond the strong influence of these past masters. No matter how hard they try, most sculptors end up making sculpture influenced by Brancusi or Noguchi and they unable to get beyond them. The barrier created by these earlier artists might be described as fundamental. In the world of contemporary art, it has caused artists to give up the pursuit of formal concerns. As a result, most artists today emphasize concepts and belittle formal qualities. Tanabe agonized over the influence of Noguchi, one of these past masters, but did not stop exploring form. Most likely, Tanabe ended the long silence at the beginning of his career when he realized that he could use something outside of art as a source of energy. This an approach that had always been accepted in the world of religious art in the past. It can easily be supposed that strength of religious faith helped to improve the formal qualities of art. Tanabe makes use of his strong feelings about the global environment and the survival of humankind in his pursuit of artistic form. As a result, I believe he has reached a level that is on a par with the masters of the past. Because art criticism has lost its capacity for commenting effectively on form, this aspect of Tanabe's art has not received sufficient attention. His work provides a key to opening up the closed world of "art for art's sake."


Fujio Yagyu, Chokoku no aru machizukuri, Nagano-shi, Saku-shi, shizen to no taiwa kara - yagaichokokusho to Tanabe Mitsuaki no Saku" (Urban Development with Sculpture, Nagano and Saku, a Dialogue with Nature - Outdoor Sculpture Prizes and Mitsuaki Tanabe's Saku), Sansai, September 1983.
Taro Nomura, commentary on Saku, 1983.
Taro Nomura, commentary on Naoetsu, 1988.
Toshie Fujishima, Outdoor Sculpture of Kanagawa, 1997.
Translated by Stanley N. Anderson