Miyuki Tanobe’s work depicts scenes from everyday life in residential neighbourhoods around Montreal and in other Canadian cities. Her colourful, playful documentary style approaches primitivism, or naïve art. Tanobe paints principally using nihonga, a technique developed in Japan toward the end of the nineteenth century, in which hand‑ground coloured pigments are mixed with glue and applied, with paintbrush and water, on an acrylic‑primed Masonite panel. Rock crystals, sand, and other minerals are incorporated to lend the surface more or less texture or substance. For a support material, the artist uses rice paper stretched over a frame, or paints directly onto rigid panels.
Miyuki Tanobe was born in 1937, in Marioka, Japan. From a very young age, she studied under Itaru Tanabe, the great oil‑painting master, as well as the famous Chou Ota. In 1959, Tanobe graduated as a drawing and painting instructor from the Tokyo University of Fine Arts (Gei‑Dai). She also studied under Seison Maida, the uncontested master of nihonga. Her first exhibitions took place in 1960 and 1961, and in the latter year she was accepted to the Fall Salon of nihonga painting in Tokyo. In 1962 and 1963, she worked at the studio La Grande Chaumière in Paris, and enrolled in the École Supérieure Nationale des Beaux‑Arts de Paris, where she studied under Chapelain Midy. Following a brief return to Japan, Tanobe moved to Montreal in 1971 after meeting Maurice Savignac. Since 1972, Tanobe has had regular solo exhibitions at the Galerie l’Art français, which later became the Galerie Jean‑Pierre Valentin.
She received a Canada Council prize for her illustration of the Gilles Vigneault poem “Gens du pays” in 1981. In 1994, she became a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, and was elected an Officer of the Ordre national du Québec the following year. In 2002, Tanobe was appointed a member of the Order of Canada, and received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.