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Chances are you’ve never heard of Chiura Obata. Well, all that changes now.

Chiura Obata was instrumental in bringing Japanese art styles like sumi-e and ukiyo-e to the West, but he’s not too well-known outside of the Japanese art world. He certainly deserves recognition however, not only for his place in art history, but for the difficulties he had to endure as well.

Obata was born in 1885 in Okayama Prefecture, Japan. He started learning traditional Japanese sumi-e painting at the age of seven, and as a teenager he apprenticed with several well-known artists in Tokyo, where he got his first taste of Western art styles.

At the age of 17, in 1903, Obata left Japan for the United States. He arrived in California where he worked as an illustrator and designer, but perhaps more notably also started painting landscapes throughout California, especially Yosemite, using traditional Japanese methods. His paintings blew the minds of Western artists at the time, and he was appointed as an instructor in the Art Department at the University of California, Berkeley in 1932.

But soon after Obata’s life hit a bump. During World War II, Obata, his wife, and over 100,000 other Japanese-Americans were forced into internment camps. But even there, Obata did his best to stay positive. He opened up an art school inside the relocation center he was assigned to, and there he helped hundreds of other prisoners find some hope and joy amidst their confinement.

After World War II, Obata was reinstated at UC Berkeley and promoted to associate professor of Art. In 1953 he became a naturalized U.S. citizen, and in 1965 he received the Order of the Sacred Treasure, 5th Class, Emperor’s Award, for his work helping to improve cultural understanding between the United States and Japan. He continued teaching art and leading tours of Americans to Japan until he died in 1975 at age 90.

Want to see how Obata viewed America? Take a look at some of his paintings:

▼ A sumi/watercolor rendition of Dana Creek in Yosemite Park, California.


▼ A colored woodblock print of Death’s Grave Pass and Tenaya Peak, also in Yosemite.


▼ Color woodblock print of El Capitan in Yosemite Valley.


▼ The Evening Moon in a color woodblock print.


▼ This abstract piece, Landslide, was created right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.


Silent Moonlight at Tanforan Relocation center shows Obata’s experience at the internment camp in haunting watercolor.


▼ This woodblock print, Life and Death, shows the ongoing cycle of nature.


▼ This sumi on silk painting shows a storm nearing the Yosemite government center.


▼ The Full Moon in Pasadena, California.

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▼ And the Setting Sun in the Sacramento Valley.

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Obata’s work lives on to today, and his paintings are often shown at Yosemite Park and other museums around the world. His paintings are a symbol for the great things that can be accomplished when two cultures come together, as well as a reminder for the travesties that can occur when they clash.

Source: The Great Nature of Chiura Obata via Japaaan Magazine, Wikipedia
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Featured/top image: The Great Nature of Chiura Obata, Japanese Woodblock Print Search (edited by RocketNews24)