Japan Art and Chiura Obata: California

Japan Art and Chiura Obata: California

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Chiura Obata (1885-1975) was born during the Meiji Period (1868-1912). Accordingly, this dynamic period of Japanese history opened the world to Japanese artists – unlike the Edo Period. Therefore, Obata emigrated to America in 1903 to start a fresh life.

He said, “I dedicate my paintings, first, to the grand nature of California, which, over the long years, in sad as well as in delightful times, has always given me great lessons, comfort, and nourishment. Second, to the people who share the same thoughts, as though drawing water from one river under one tree.”

Obata witnessed tremendous highs and enormous lows during his life in America. Despite this, his early artistic years were influenced by Murata Tanryo (1874-1940), Terazaki Kogyo (1866-1919), and Hashimoto Gaho (1835-1905).

All three art pieces in this article focus on California. This concerns the Upper Lyell area and Mono Lake.

The Denver Art Museum says, “Obata, one of the most significant artists working on the West Coast during the last century, trained in Japan in both modern and traditional art styles including nihonga (painting that uses mineral pigments, organic pigments, and sometimes ink applied to silk or paper using brushes) and sumi-e (ink painting). After emigrating to the United States in 1903, he applied these techniques to his representations of what he called Great Nature, thereby paying homage to the landscapes that inspired him.”

His art and philosophical approach were shaped by the Meiji Period. Accordingly, this created a unique approach to art in Obata’s adopted country of America. Therefore, “the grand nature of California” – and new ideas emanating from America – shaped his identity despite the trauma of the war period.

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