Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Asian Art 3: Toshio Aoki and Chiura Obata
Adjoining the Japanese Friendship Dolls at the Asian Art Museum is a small display about early Japanese immigrant artists in San Francisco that cries out for a larger, more comprehensive exhibit because historically, artistically, and sociologically the subject is fascinating.
The painting two panels above is by Toshio Aoki (1853-1912) who had already won prizes at the Paris Salon before he came to lecture at the ladies' Sketch Club in San Francisco in 1896.
Also represented is Chiura Obata (1885-1975), an extraordinary artist whose paintings and watercolors of Yosemite are particularly well-known. Obata came to the U.S. at age 17 in 1902 where he worked as an illustrator and commercial decorator, including the "Oriental Rooms" for Gump's department store pictured above.
He also designed the great-looking set for a 1924 production of "Madama Butterfly" at the newly formed San Francisco Opera in the same year Congress passed the Immigration Act banning further Asians from entering the country.
In 1932, Obata became an art instructor at UC Berkeley and ran an art supply store on Telegraph Avenue with his wife Haruko, was rounded up for the internment camps during World War Two (where he also taught art), and returned to the university where he retired as Professor Emeritus in 1954. The 1922 watercolor above is of Baker Beach looking toward the Marin headlands, pre-Golden Gate Bridge.
The real revelation of the display, however, was discovering "The Four Immigrants Manga," a pioneering, bilingual graphic novel from 1931 by Henry Kiyama that was recovered from the trash heap of history by San Francisco writer and translator Frederik Schodt in 1999. More on that subject in the next post.