Tanaka’s life was marked by a constant and deep curiosity in a variety of genres. His highly original work pushed the boundaries and techniques of traditional Japanese art forms, such as nihon-ga, by employing mineral pigments, powders, stones, sand, paper, Sumi ink, and other matter in entirely new ways.

This led him to establish a uniquely abstract style and new method of painting that began in the early 1960s and continued up through the 1990s. The artist piled a thick heap of mineral pigments in the centre of his paintings, creating a large plane of colour. Ore is the main ingredient in these pigments, and as these tiny particles shine in the light, they create a hard, yet delicate and powdery texture.

He did not try to wholly control the material, instead allowing it to crack, drip, and transfigure. By allowing matter to exist and evolve, Tanaka explored the potential of the contemporary in the traditional.