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

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, 2008June 1, 2008
Between 1928 and 1930, while Obata was in Tokyo, he transformed these California landscape watercolors and sketches into a limited-edition portfolio titled World Landscape Series.
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 bo