To the receptive, an old painting can sometimes seem like a time machine, giving a vivid sense of the hand and mind that created it, as well as the social milieu and atmosphere behind it. But this time- traveling analogy doesn’t just extend to the viewing of venerable art. Even the creation of new paintings can enable the gifted artist to travel — in a formal and imaginary sense — to the distant past. Both forms of time travel seem to have defined the career of one of Japan’s most unusual painters, Tosio Arimoto, whose encounter with early Italian Renaissance art struck a chord with which his own art ever afterward resonated.
Wisely, “Tosio Arimoto: A Celestial Music” is held at the Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum. In the modern metropolis of Tokyo, this is a relatively archaic building (1930s Art Deco) and has an elegant ambience of times past that suits Arimoto’s retro Renaissance painting. The artist, who was born in 1946 but tragically died in 1985 at the age of 38, can best be described as a modern Japanese Giotto (c. 1267-1337) or a Showa Era Fra Angelico (c. 1395-1455). His paintings try to evoke the style and texture of the tempera panel paintings and frescoes of that bygone era, even to the point of carefully simulating time-worn effects such as cracking and fading.