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.


namastenancy said...

What a great series of posts! I enjoy your writing so much and envy your ability to take photos of works under glass! I tried to take photos of some of the same works but my skills and my camera are not up to the task. Did you take any photos of the woodcuts done by the Art Interns - the work is displayed on one wall of the Shanghai Lounge and it's quite stunning.

AphotoAday said...

Yes, I think I would prefer this show -- a big show of it -- over the Friendship Dolls, 'fer sure...

sfmike said...

Dear Nancy: The teenager woodcuts were marvelous and I did take some great photos, which will go up eventually.

Dear Donald: The Friendship Dolls are an interesting part of the whole love-hate Japanese-American story that's being told in the small exhibit. They're actually pretty cool, which is saying something, since I'm usually repulsed by dolls.

Axel Feldheim said...

In case you haven't seen it already, there is a book called "Topaz Moon" with many reproductions of Obata's work done during his WWII internment. He made several sumi drawings on the day of his evacuation from Berkeley, depicting that event.