Soul moving: Toriizaka art

By on November 4, 2008

TF talks to Karen Thomas the owner of Toriizaka Art, an innovative salon gallery that shares its premises with her family’s Roppongi home.

 Karen first moved to Tokyo in 1992 with her husband Jack and their two young sons, Miles and Gavin. By the time Miles turned six, Karen had given birth to two more sons, Harrison and Gabriel, and was spending most of her time chasing after the boys and volunteering at ASIJ.

Can you explain how Toriizaka Art began?

Leaving Japan in 2004 after 12 years in Tokyo was heart-wrenching for me. However, when I returned to Tokyo in 2005, I had the perfect opportunity to reinvent myself and do something different. Since our home has always been full of art, many of our friends had asked me to assist them in finding pieces for their own collections. That and a lot of soul searching about the type of career I wanted going forward was what solidified the decision for me.

Why Vietnamese art?

I first traveled to Vietnam in 2001 and became enamored with the tremendous artistic talent that I saw there. Later, after returning to Tokyo, I found that there were just a handful of galleries outside of Vietnam representing these very talented artists. Getting to know the artists personally and discovering their passion for painting made me want to support and promote their works outside of Vietnam.

How does your family feel about your gallery?

Jack has always been incredibly supportive and acts as my venture capitalist, accountant, tax attorney, web designer and more. My sons often help me hang art and assist with exhibitions. Their home is also a gallery so we have to be flexible. If their friends come over to play ping pong or foosball, some of the art may have to be moved but that is perfectly ok. My kids also have their views on the art and can be my toughest critics!

How do you select artists and pieces for Toriizaka Art?

I travel to Vietnam about four times a year to meet artists, plan exhibitions and choose pieces for the collection. I try to select sustainable artists – artists who consistently create high quality works. I work very hard to make sure that each piece I acquire is one of the best and I try to understand the artists’ feelings and emotions associated with each piece.

Can you tell us about some of your benefit events?

We held a benefit exhibition featuring 20 of Le Thanh Son’s landscapes.  The show was extremely well received and we were able to make a $15,000 donation split between Room to Read, Tokyo English Life Line, Hands on Tokyo and Second Harvest Japan.

Are you planning any more large benefits?

Shinsei Bank has again graciously offered their fabulous hall for two events.  The first is from November 22nd – 28th and features Vu Cong Dien, Le Minh Duc and Le Minh — all extremely talented artists with recent exhibitions in London, Singapore and Dubai. Next spring in April, there will be an exhibition of Dao Hai Phong’s works. This is his first retrospective and we are very excited to be hosting this event in Tokyo.

How do people find out about Toriizaka Art?

Most people learn about us through word of mouth or see our art in their friends’ homes. Others find the site when they search for specific artists and then ask to be added to our distribution list.

Is there always art on display in your home?  

There are always between 100 and 130 pieces hanging on the walls. The collection turns over quite rapidly with about fifteen to twenty new pieces added each month. Once people know we’re here, they often check the website to see what’s new and call to make an appointment.

Is there anything else you’d like people to know about you?

Developing relationships with the artists has been incredibly rewarding for me. Getting to know them, learning about their passions and struggles and seeing their works appreciated have all been quite gratifying. Each person appreciates art in his or her own way and it’s nice to be a part of a process in which people are connected with art that moves their soul.

If you would like to view the collection or be added to Karen’s email distribution list, please email her at Karen can be contacted at 03-3586-9320 or 080-3006-2447

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