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Miyoko Ito

Miyoko Ito

Miyoko Ito in her studio. Photo courtesy of artspace.com

Upbringing in Berkeley and Japan

Allusive abstractionist Miyoko Ito was born into a Japanese family in Berkeley, California in 1918. She moved to Japan with her parents in 1923 to avoid discrimination and for initial art training, including calligraphy lessons. Ito later returned to Berkeley and majored in art at the University of California, where she was exposed to cubist works by Picasso and Braque plus Hans Hofmann’s geometric compositions.

World War II Internment

During World War II, Ito was interned with her family at the Topaz camp in Delta, Utah, but she was awarded her diploma from UC Berkeley in 1942. After graduate study at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, Ito earned a scholarship for postgraduate work at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Mid-Century Chicago Artist

In the late 1940s, Ito began to paint abstract oils in a cubist style softened with impressionistic brushwork. Critical acclaim came in the 1950s as Ito’s paintings were part of the Art Institute’s Chicago and Vicinity shows as well as the 61st American Exhibition in 1954. During this period, Ito befriended local artists such as Ray Yoshida and Evely Statsinger whose passion for surrealism led Ito to move away from representational painting. Rather than render landscapes, figures, or objects explicitly, Ito suggested them with shapes, lines, and curves. Simultaneously, Ito’s preferred palette went from pastels to vivid oranges and reds, which she banded subtly to compel attention.

Imagism, Allusive Abstractionism, and Legacy

Although free of pop references, the work that Ito made in the 1960s has been linked tangentially to Chicago Imagism, and Ito knew Jim Nutt, Gladys Nilsson, and Roger Brown. Blues, greens, and purples returned to Ito’s painting in the 1970s before she grew more formally abstract as the 1980s began. With the artists Richard Loving, William Conger, and Frank Piatek, Ito devised the term ‘allusive abstractionism’ for their shared approach. The Hyde Park Art Center organized a solo Ito exhibit in 1971 and her work was included in the contemporary art biennial at the Whitney Museum in New York City in 1975. The University of Chicago’s Renaissance Society held a career retrospective in 1980, not long before Ito’s death in 1983. Recently, the market for Ito’s paintings and drawings has grown considerably. Institutions holding works by Ito include the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC, the Art Institute of Chicago, the University of Chicago’s Smart Museum, and the Illinois State Museum in Springfield.

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Miyoko Ito
Miyoko Ito