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Chiura Obata's Richly Bold Mono Lake Paintings

When viewing Chiura Obata prints and paintings you will find lush colors that create a sense of depth and feeling while the composition’s undeniable simplicity is unique. Peaceful yet bold, minimalist yet rich, Evening Glow at Mono Lake is a prime example of the striking quality of Obata’s work. His emotionally charged landscape paintings are an important addition to the 20th-century American canon.


Evening Glow at Mono Lake
Evening Glow at Mono Lake by Chiura Obata c. 1930 Courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum

Some Facts about the Artist

A leading figure in the Northern California art scene and as an influential educator, teaching at the University of California, Berkeley, ( 1932 to 1954) for nearly twenty years and acting as founding director of art school at the Topaz internment camp

Born in 1885 in Okayama, Obata began his artistic training at the age of seven in Japanese art forms including ink and brush painting.

He ran away from home to avoid Japanese military school at 14 and joined an artist group in Tokyo. During this time, he apprenticed under Tanryo Murata, Kogya Terasaki, and Gaho Hasimoto, eventually receiving a prestigious art award for his work.

Obata dreamt of a life in America and immigrated to Seattle in 1903. He made his way to San Fransisco working as a domestic servant and later to Sacramento working in hop fields.


During the 1920s, Obata was sought-after by various magazines and he worked on various commissions. He held his first art exhibition in America in 1928 and was appointed to an art professor position at Berkeley in 1932.

In September 1942, Obata was sent to the Topaz Relocation Center for 11 months, a concentration camp where Japanese immigrants were moved during World War II. Obata was still able to teach art at the camp and was released for his safety after his safety was at risk by one of the other inmates. The family moved to St. Louis and Obata worked with a commercial art company until returning to California after the war.



Along Mono Lake
Along Mono Lake c. 1927
Morning at Mono Lake
Morning at Mono Lake c. 1930 Courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum

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