Tadashi Sato

Name Tadashi Sato
Born February 6 1923
Died June 4 2005
Birth Location Honolulu, HI
Generational Identifier


Maui-born Nisei muralist, painter, and mosaic artist who achieved local, national, and international acclaim.

Early Years and Background

Tadashi Sato was born on February 6, 1923, in Kaupakalua in east Maui to a plantation laborer and merchant. His love for art started early when his third grade art teacher submitted his poster to the territorial contest in Honolulu. As Sato recalled, "several weeks later the whole school was outside, standing up around the flagpole. And I was called. And I got the first award and received a check for $2.50. That was an incentive. I think that was the beginning." [1] He spent thirteen years in Japanese language school and graduated from Lahainaluna High School. Due to his knowledge of Japanese language and calligraphy, during World War II when Sato was a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team , he was part of a special team that prepared military maps in Australia, New Guinea, and the Philippines. [2] After the war, Sato briefly attended the Cannon School of Business in Honolulu before pursuing an artistic career.

Artistic Education and Career

Sato studied art at the Honolulu School of Arts that was part of the Honolulu Academy of Arts. At the Honolulu Academy of Arts, Sato met painter Ralson Crawford who was a visiting faculty member, and Crawford encouraged him to go to New York City and provided scholarship assistance to continue his studies. Between 1948 and 1950, Sato studied with Crawford at the Brooklyn Museum Art School and later with Stuart Davis at the New School for Social Research. Sato also worked at the Pratt Institute and received a John Hay Whitney Fellowship in 1954. He moved back and forth between Hawai'i and New York for a number of years and even resided in Japan from 1955 to 1956. Sato mentioned that his first big break came when he was working as a museum security guard. A friend who was a movie extra introduced him to actors Burgess Meredith and Charles Laughton who were art collectors. At the urging of his friend, Meredith, Laughton and a number of other actors came to his apartment and purchased a number of works. [3] Soon after, Sato called his boss at the museum to quit. In Hawai'i, Sato met other up-and-coming artists at this time including, Bumpei Akaji , Tetsuo Ochikubo, Harry Tsuchidana, Jerry Okimoto, Edmund Chung, Satoru Abe , James Park, and Isami Doi , They began meeting at a studio they set up at Metcalf Street and became known as the "Metcalf Chateau" holding both individual and group shows. [4] He finally returned to Hawai'i in 1960 to begin raising a family that included his wife Kiyoko and his daughter Janice.

Art Work and Accolades

For many Hawai'i residents, Sato's most famous work is likely "Aquarius," the 36-by-36-foot circular mosaic on the floor of the State Capitol atrium that depicted water reflections and submerged rocks. His work is also displayed at the Aiea, Kahului, and Aina Hina Public Libraries, the Honolulu Academy of Arts, the Kona Hospital, the Lahaina Civic Center, and the War Memorial Gymnasium on Maui. Sato is well-known for his paintings with this "signature delicate, crosshatched brushstrokes." [5] Regarding his subject matter, he explained that, "of my paintings I prefer those that convey a more mystical, metaphysical aspect. A painting becomes a little more than a painting itself, without the loss of composition, sensibility, strong composition." [6] Sato is often influenced by the structures and colors of objects all around him although how much Hawai'i has influenced his work is difficult for him to say. "I don’t really intellectually know," he once explained, "But I feel good, for example, when I see a nice clear low-tide day in front of my place in Lahaina." [7] He also mentioned that "ideas come from everywhere. My memories and life experiences. Many come from Maui—its mountain, ocean, colors—but I make them mine." [8]

Sato has exhibited his work at the Guggenheim Museum, the National Gallery in Washington D.C., the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Whitney Museum in both one-man and group shows. In 1956, Sato was awarded the Albert Knapp Award and in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson honored Sato at the White House Festival of Arts along with Jackson Pollock, Georgia O'Keefe, and other American artists. [9] Later, in 1984, Sato became a Hongwanji Living Treasure and in 2000, he was honored by Kapi'olani Community College with its Koa Award for outstanding lifetime achievement in art. Sato passed away at the age of 82 at Maui Memorial Medical Center. [10]

Authored by Kelli Y. Nakamura , University of Hawai'i

For More Information

Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii. Reflections: The Japanese American Master Artists of Hawaii . Honolulu: The Center, 1996.

Jensen, James F. Tadashi Sato: A Retrospective . Honolulu: Contemporary Museum, 2002.

Morse, Marcia. Legacy: Facets of Island Modernism . Honolulu: Honolulu Academy of Arts, 2001.

Radford, Georgia and Warren Radford. Sculpture in the Sun: Hawaii’s Art for Open Spaces . Honolulu: University Press of Hawai‘i, 1978.

Sato, Tadashi. “Sketchbook,” Bamboo Ridge: The Hawai‘i Writers Quarterly 47 (Summer 1990): 72-77.

State Foundation on Culture and the Arts (Hawaii). Artists of Hawaii Volume 1: Nineteen Painters and Sculptors . Honolulu: State Foundation on Culture & the Arts, 1974.


  1. State Foundation on Culture and the Arts (Hawaii). Artists of Hawaii Volume 1: Nineteen Painters and Sculptors (Honolulu: State Foundation on Culture & the Arts, 1974), 112.
  2. Marcia Morse, Legacy: Facets of Island Modernism (Honolulu: Honolulu Academy of Arts, 2001), 77.
  3. Timothy Hurley, "Tadashi Sato, 82, accomplished Hawai'i Artist," Honolulu Advertiser , June 10, 2005, B-2.
  4. Nadine Kam, "After a Lifetime Creating Art, Abe Talks About His Death," Honolulu Star-Bulletin , Aug. 7, 2005, accessed on April 11, 2016 at http://archives.starbulletin.com/2005/08/07/features/story3.html
  5. Hurley, "Tadashi Sato."
  6. Hawai'i. General Education Branch. Artists of Hawai'i (Honolulu : Office of Instructional Services/General Education Branch, Dept. of Education, State of Hawaii, 1985), 42.
  7. State Foundation on Culture and the Arts (Hawaii). Artists of Hawaii Volume 1: Nineteen Painters and Sculptors (Honolulu: State Foundation on Culture & the Arts, 1974), 112.
  8. Scott C. Stone. Living Treasures of Hawai'i: 25th Anniversary of the Selections of Outstanding Persons as Honored by the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawai'i (Honolulu: Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawai'i, 2000), 70
  9. Hurley, "Tadashi Sato."
  10. "Tadashi Sato," Honolulu Star-Bulletin , 10 June 2005, C-11.

Last updated Aug. 31, 2017, 7:40 a.m..