An Amer­i­can Mod­ern

On­go­ing ex­hi­bi­tion at the Utah Mu­seum of Fine Arts ex­plores the art of Ja­panese-amer­i­can Chiura Obata.

Western Art Collector - - WESTERN ART NEWS -

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.

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