Masami Teraoka

MASAMI TERAOKA was born in 1936 in Onomichi, Hiroshima, Japan.  He graduated in 1959 with a Bachelor of Arts in Aesthetics from Kwansei Gakuin University, Hyogo, Japan. Teraoka continued his education in the United States, earning a Bachelor of Arts (1964) and a Master of Arts (1968) from Otis College of Art and Design, California.

Teraoka’s work integrates reality with fantasy, humor with social commentary, and the historical with the contemporary. Teraoka’s early paintings often focus on the meeting of East and West evident in series that began in the 1970s such as “McDonald's Hamburgers Invading Japan,” “New Views of Mt Fuji,” and “31 Flavors Invading Japan.” The works on paper that define this period of his career often reflect the impact of economic and cultural globalization. While sexuality is a recurring subject in his work, his representation of sex shifted from positive depictions of free-love in the 1970s and early 1980s, to concern for the spread of HIV through unprotected sex in his work of the mid-1980s. The medium during this period shifted from watercolor on paper to watercolor on canvas, enabling him to work at a large scale to address the enormity of the social and health crises.

Teraoka’s narrative paintings of the 1990s until today engage in social and political commentary and critiques of the Catholic Church, its patriarchy and its sexual abuse scandals, hypocrisy in American politics, and social and political repression in Russia under Vladimir Putin’s leadership. His work of this era is rendered in oil on panel, inspired by gilded Renaissance triptychs. He continues in the vein of a narrative approach like that of his earlier, ukiyo-e inspired work, but he renders in a more western inspired style with a baroque flair that references European ecclesiastical art. In 2017, Teraoka produced an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest  in collaboration Viktoria Naraxsa of Russian activist collective Pussy Riot, which premiered at the Honolulu Museum of Art, Hawaii. Since their collaboration, Viktoria has been featured as a protagonist in Teraoka’s paintings, interacting with Pope Francis, Vladimir Putin, and Teraoka’s former collaborator, the geisha Momotaro.

Teraoka’s work has been the subject of more than 70 solo exhibitions, including the 2017 solo survey Floating Realities: The Art of Dr. Masami Teraoka at California State University, Fullerton. Teraoka’s work has also been featured in solo exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art (1979), New York; Arthur M. Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution (1996), Washington, DC; Asian Art Museum (1997), California; Yale University Art Gallery (1998), Connecticut; New Albion Gallery (2012), New South Wales, Australia; and Honolulu Museum of Art (2015), Hawaii, amongst other venues. Teraoka’s work was also exhibited at the RISD Museum, Rhode Island, along with a catalogue; Cedar Street Galleries, Hawaii; Art Gallery at New South Wales, Australia; and Katonah Museum of Art, New York in 2022, as well as the Albuquerque Museum, New Mexico in 2019, many of which continue into 2023.

In 2023, Teraoka’s iconic folding screen titled Makiki Heights Disaster (1988), a center-piece of his “AIDS Series,” was acquired by the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, where it will be exhibited in the fall of 2024. In 2022, the gallery presented Masami Teraoka: The Last Swan Lake, his most recent exhibition there.

His work is represented in more than 50 public collections worldwide, including the Tate Modern, London, United Kingdom; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, California; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, California; Arthur M. Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California; Crocker Art Museum, California; Honolulu Museum of Art, Hawaii; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire; the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon; Gallery of Modern Art, Scotland, United Kingdom; Center for Contemporary Graphic Art and Tyler Graphics Archive Collection, Fukushima, Japan; National Gallery of Victoria, Australia; and Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin, among others. The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, California, Library of Congress, Washington, DC, Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, California, and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, acquired woodblock prints of McDonald’s Hamburgers Invading Japan/Tattooed Woman and Geisha III (2018). The latter institution also added 31 Flavors Invades Japan/Today’s Special (1982) to its collection.

In 2015, the artist was awarded the Lee Krasner Award by the Pollock-Krasner Foundation in recognition of outstanding lifetime artistic achievement. In 2019, the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, acquired a major work by Teraoka, Los Angeles Sushi Ghost Tales/Fish Woman and the Artist I (1979) in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the artist’s solo museum exhibition. In 2016, Teraoka was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts from Otis College of Art and Design, California.

Teraoka’s work has been featured in multiple publications, including three monographs: Waves and Plagues, published by Chronicle Books in 1988, Ascending Chaos: The Art of Masami Teraoka 1966 – 2006, published by Chronicle Books in 2006, and Floating Realities: The Art of Masami Teraoka, published by California State University, Fullerton in 2018.

Paintings from Teraoka’s “Two Suns” series that reflect the impact on Teraoka as a child that witnessed the atomic explosion associated with the bombing of Hiroshima, are currently being exhibited alongside sculptures by Al Farrow and video works by Zeina Barakeh, in an exhibition titled What’s at Stake at the Schneider Museum of Art in Ashland, Oregon.

The artist lives and works in O‘ahu, Hawaii, and has been represented by Catharine Clark Gallery since 1998.