Chiura Obata

born Okayama-ken, Japan 1885-died Berkeley, CA 1975
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Courtesy of the Obata Family
Also known as
  • Zoroku Obata
Okayama-ken, Japan
Berkeley, California, United States
Active in
  • San Francisco, California, United States
  • American

Chiura Obata (1885-1975) was one of the most significant Japanese American artists working on the West Coast in the last century. Born in Okayama, Japan, Obata emigrated to the United States in 1903 and embarked on a seven-decade career that saw the enactment of anti-immigration laws and the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. But Obata emerged as a leading figure in the Northern California artistic communities, serving not only as an influential art professor at UC Berkeley for nearly twenty years, but also as a founding director of art schools in the [incarceration] camps. With a prodigious and expansive oeuvre, Obata's seemingly effortless mastery of, and productive engagement with, diverse techniques, styles, and traditions defy the dichotomous categorizations of American/European and Japanese/Asian art. His 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 are all as relevant to our contemporary moment as ever.

ShiPu Wang, Chiura Obata: An American Modern (Santa Barbara: Art, Design & Architecture Museum, University of California, Santa Barbara, 2018), 10.




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Obata’s Yosemite
February 22, 2008May 31, 2008
Chiura Obata (1885–1975), born in Okayama-ken, Japan, was one of the earliest Japanese artists to live and work in the United States. He moved to San Francisco in 1903, supporting himself as an illustrator for Japanese language newspapers and magazines, while painting in the moro-tai style of contemporary Japanese art. In 1927, he visited Yosemite National Park and the Sierra Nevada, where he made approximately 100 drawings in pencil, watercolor, and sumi ink. He recalled his visit to Yosemite as “the greatest harvest for my whole life and future in painting.” The following year, he returned to Japan for a visit and brought thirty-five of the drawings to be translated into color woodcuts.
A watercolor image of Grand Canyon.
Chiura Obata: American Modern
November 27, 2019March 13, 2020
Japanese-born artist Chiura Obata’s seemingly effortless synthesis of different art traditions defies the usual division between “East” and “West.” This exhibition presents the most comprehensive survey of his rich and varied body of work to date, from bold California landscape paintings to intimate drawings of his experiences of the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.