Kenzo Okada, the first Japanese-American artist working in the abstract-expressionist style to receive international acclaim, was born in 1902, the son of a wealthy industrialist in Japan. In 1922, upon the death of his father, who had opposed his desire to become an artist, Okada enrolled in the Tokyo Fine Arts University. In 1924 he moved to Paris, where he came under the influence of European modernism. He exhibited at the 1927 Salon d’Automne in Paris, but in this same year returned to Japan, where he painted landscapes and figural compositions in the European tradition.
Okada had his first one-person show in 1928 at the Mitsukoshi Department Store, Tokyo. He was awarded a prize in 1936 from the Nikakai Group, the largest association of Japanese contemporary artists, and the following year became a lifelong member of the group. From 1940 to 1944, he taught at the School of Fine Arts, Nippon University, and was subsequently evacuated to Mori, a Takarae village in the Miyagi Prefecture. After returning to Tokyo in 1947, Okada taught at the Musashino Art Institute. Despite his success in Japan as a teacher and realist painter, Okada moved to New York in 1950 and began to paint abstractions. Although these abstract paintings were stimulated by abstract expressionism, the artist still displayed his Japanese sensibility in the delicate, sensitive color tonalities that float within the compositional space. In 1953 he was given his first American one-person show at the Betty Parsons Gallery, where he continued to exhibit for the rest of his career. After settling in New York, Okada made frequent trips to Japan, where he died in Tokyo in 1982.