An American Modern
Ongoing exhibition at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts explores the art of Japanese-american Chiura Obata.
Now open at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts in Salt Lake City is an exhibition dedicated to the life and work of Chiura Obata, a Japanese-american whose work were inspired by the West, particularly national parks such as the Grand Canyon and Yosemite.
Chiura Obata: An American Modern is the first internationally traveling survey of the artist’s work and features more than 150 paintings, watercolors, prints and screens, from intimate ikebana studies to grand landscapes of the American West. The exhibition will also feature more than 30 drawings and paintings documenting his forced internment during World War II, including many scenes from the Topaz Relocation Center near Delta, Utah, where he was held from 1942 to 1943. Many of these images have never been on public display.
Obata was born in Okayama, Japan, in 1885 and late emigrated to the United States in 1903 to begin a seven-decade art career, working primarily in California. A leading figure in Northern California’s art community, Obata was an influential art professor at the University of California, Berkeley for 22 years, a tenure that was interrupted by more than a year’s internment at the Tanforan Assembly Center in California and at Topaz in Utah, where he founded art schools. After the war, and despite reprehensible treatment by the American government, Obata resumed teaching at Berkeley and continued teaching American artists Japanese forms of art.
“In my small way, I have attempted to offer my entire self—body and soul—to the depiction of the beauty of the world through my humble eyes,” Obata said in 1930. “That has been my only aim and purpose all these long years.”
“Obata’s faith in the power of art, his devotion to preserving the myriad grandeur of what he called ‘Great Nature,’ and his compelling personal story as an immigrant and an American all make Obata and his art as relevant to our contemporary moment as ever,” says Shipu Wang, exhibition curator and professor of art history and visual culture at the University of California, Merced.
The exhibition continues through September 2. For more information visit umfa.utah.edu.
Chiura Obata (1885-1975), Evening Glow at Yosemite Waterfall, Yosemite National Park, California, No. 23 of the World Landscape Series, 1930, color woodcut, 15 x 11”. Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, 1963.30.3126.23.
Chiura Obata (1885-1975), Grand Canyon, May 15, 1940, watercolor on silk, 17½ x 21¾”. Amber and Richard Sakai Collection.