Posts Tagged ‘Chiura Obata’

Art: Chiura Obata
Upper Lyell Fork, near Lyell Glacier, 1930, color woodblock print. The Japanese-American artist suffered from hostility and interment but was grateful for America’s natural beauty and always gave back.

Maria Popova has an inspiring post at Brain Pickings about a Japanese-American artist who felt grateful for Yosemite and other natural beauty in his adopted country — despite experiencing cruel prejudice, discrimination, and internment.

Popova reports, “Called to art since childhood, Chiura Obata (November 18, 1885–October 6, 1975) was trained in the traditional Japanese ink and brush painting technique sumi-e from the age of seven. When his family readied him for military school at age fourteen, he ran away, left his home prefecture, and traveled four hundred miles north to Tokyo, where he apprenticed himself to a prominent painter for three years.

“Shortly before his eighteen birthday, Obata left for the United States and settled in San Francisco, working as a domestic servant while pursuing an arts education. He was soon supporting himself with illustration work for Japanese-language magazines and newspapers. But the American Dream was not on offer — instead, Obata was met with the era’s prevalent racial animosity toward Japanese immigrants. …

“Perhaps it was this anguishing disappointment with the human world, with its seething cauldron of xenophobia and racism, that made Obata turn his heart and his paintbrush to the natural world. On his first trip to the High Sierra in 1927, watching ‘beautiful flowers bloom in a stream of icy water,’ Obata wrote to his wife, Haruko:

I only feel full of gratitude. …

“By the end of the decade, his paintings had garnered considerable attention. … But neither Obata’s stature in the creative world nor his appointment as an art instructor at U.C. Berkeley protected him from the swarming hostility of the country he had made his home and the recipient of his rare gift. In December of 1941, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, locals fired shots at the art supply store Obata and his wife owned in Berkeley. …

“By the spring, Obata was detained at one of California’s internment camps for Japanese Americans, where he founded an art school using his own funds and donations from friends at the university. Six hundred of the interned became art students and went on to produce work of such quality that it was being exhibited outside the camp by the summer. ”

More at Brain Pickings, here, where you can see other work by this wonderful artist.

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