Ted Naomi Kurahara Biography

Ted Naomi Kurahara




Painter and printmaker Ted Naomi Kurahara was born in Seattle, Washington, on July 16, 1925. As a child, he excelled in art and was encouraged by his primary school teachers to pursue art-related projects, often allowing him to create maps and posters for use in the classroom in lieu of other assignments. When World War II commenced and Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941, Kurahara's family, as well as other Japanese families in what was then known as the "international district," was soon sent to the Minidoka internment camp in Idaho, forcing his family to abandon the apartment complex they owned and operated.

In early 1944 at the age of seventeen Kurahara was drafted into the U.S. army. After training in Florida and Mississippi he was sent to Europe, fighting in France and Italy in the 442nd Japanese American Battalion, becoming a decorated staff sargeant. By the time he was shipped back to the United States his family had been allowed to relocate, and his parents had followed their eldest son to St. Louis where he attended medical school. The military sent Kurahara to a base near St. Louis and, after being discharged in 1947, he enrolled in Washington University's arts program. 

After graduating with a BA in fine arts, he relocated to Peoria, Illinois, where he attended Bradley University and recieved his MFA. Following this, Kurahara began a teaching career, first at the Springfield Art Association in Springfield, IL, from 1953 to 1956, and then the University of Iowa. In 1958, he was awarded a medal for his work at the Art in America "New Talent in the U.S.A." invitational exhibition. In the late 1950s, a trip to New York to visit friends rekindled Kurahara's desire to more seriously pursue his own fine art career and he and his wife, artist Joan Vennum, moved with their family to Brooklyn in the fall of 1959. There, he began to exhibit more frequently and he had shows in New York and throughout the U.S. Among his close professional associations was the Mi Chou Gallery, one of the first major Asian art institutions on the East Coast, with whom he exhibited frequiently. He continued to teach part time for extra income, including at Pratt University, New York University, and Brooklyn College; he also took a job as an art consultant for the city of Manhattan. 

The evolution of Kurahara's work began with his interest in Abstract Expressionism, and in his early years as both a student and a teacher he explored the themes of automatic line, representational abstraction, and cubism on the block, plate, and canvas. He found his stride at the height of Minimalism in the 1960s and '70s, working within a gridded canvas outlined first in pencil and creating compositions that bordered on Hard Edge. However, his Abstract Expressionist roots never fully abandoned him and works of Kurahara's in the early 2000s exhibit many of the exploratory innovation of his time in Missouri and Iowa. 

Kurahara recieved a residency at the Huntington Gallery in the late 1960s; at the Yaddo Institute in Saratoga Springs in 1978; and the Ford Foundation Visiting Artist's Program at the University of Washington in 1979. In 1984 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, followed by a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1985 that allowed him to take a year's sabbatical. He continued to exhibit internationally, including in Sweden, France, and Italy. 

Kurahara and Joan continued to paint through the 2010s; they currently live in New York City.