Contact: Calandra Childers,
SAM Public Relations
SEATTLE ASIAN ART MUSEUM PRESENTS SEATTLE OF THE 1930S
THROUGH THE EYES OF FIRST GENERATION
JAPANESE AMERICAN ARTISTS
Painting Seattle: Kamekichi Tokita and Kenjiro Nomura
October 22, 2011February 19, 2012
SEATTLE, September 22, 2011 – Kamekichi Tokita and Kenjiro Nomura, first-generation Japanese Americans, were well known in 1930s Seattle for their American realist style of landscape painting. Painting Seattle: Kamekichi Tokita & Kenjiro Nomura, opening October 22, 2011, highlights the landscapes they knew well—neighborhoods in and around Japantown or Nihonmachi (today part of the International District), the working waterfront, and the farmlands cultivated by Japanese American families. Along with such artists as Kenneth Callahan, Morris Graves, and Ambrose and Viola Patterson, Tokita and Nomura were part of the Seattle modernist collective Group of Twelve. The intimate exhibition of approximately twenty works will feature eight paintings from SAM’s collection.
Tokita and Nomura were the most prominent of a group of first-generation Japanese-American painters in the 1920s and 30s in Seattle, and their paintings portray everyday people and places. The two were friends, painting colleagues, and partners in a sign-painting business, whose shop served as studio and gathering place. Their work was highly regarded by Seattle’s progressive artists, praised for its modernist use of strong line, simplified geometric form, and inventive composition. Unlike artists seeking picturesque Northwest vistas, their work reveals details derived from daily familiarity. The majority of the paintings depict street scenes in the Northwest in and around what was then called Japantown—Prefontaine Street, 4th and Yesler, and the view of Puget Sound over the tops of Seattle buildings. In their choice of subject, the particularities of place and time, and their artistic melding of Western modernism and Japanese tradition, they describe an Issei, or first generation Japanese American perspective.
“This exhibition represents a long overdue reclamation,” says Barbara Johns, guest curator. “The artists were well recognized in their time but written out of history during World War II. I hope the Seattle Art Museum exhibition together with the Tokita book will restore their place within a broadened understanding of American art.”
Both exhibited regularly in regional annuals and were selected to represent the Northwest in national exhibitions. They were named two of the three Artist Life Members of the new Seattle Art Museum at its opening and honored with solo exhibitions. Dr. Richard Fuller, SAM’s founding director, featured the pair in an exhibition jointly organized by SAM and the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in 1934. World War II abruptly halted their careers, and only Nomura lived long enough afterward to re-establish himself as an artist. This is the first exhibition since 1934 to present Tokita’s and Nomura’s work together in depth.
About the Artists
Tokita, born in 1897 in Japan, emigrated in 1919 and settled in Seattle's Japanese American immigrant community. Often called the “leader” among the city’s Japanese American artists, in the 1930s he (along with Nomura) was established as a prominent member of the Northwest art scene and allied with the region's progressive artists. The Seattle Art Museum and its predecessor organization, the Seattle Fine Arts Society, presented solo exhibitions of his paintings in 1930 and 1935. He and his family were incarcerated at Minidoka during World War II, and he passed away a few years later in 1948.
Nomura, born in 1896 in Japan, arrived in the United States in 1907. His painting was first selected for the competitive Northwest Annual in 1922 and included nearly every year until World War II. SAM presented a solo exhibition of his work as one of the first exhibitions in the newly created museum in the summer of 1933. He continued painting after the war ended and developed an abstract style that suggests an influence of Mark Tobey, which was supported by Seattle gallerist Zoe Dusanne. A posthumous exhibition entitled Memorial Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings by Kenjiro Nomura was exhibited at SAM in 1960.
Coinciding with the exhibition is a book about Kamekichi Tokita by curator Barbara Johns, entitled Signs of Home
The Paintings and Wartime Diary of Kamekichi Tokita. The book utilizes the diary of Tokita, started on the day that Pearl Harbor was bombed. The chronicle records insight the events, fears, rumors, restrictions, and his own emotional turmoil before and during his detention at Minidoka, and book contextualizes Tokita's paintings and diary within the art community and Japanese America. It also introduces an amazing man who embraced life despite living through challenging and disheartening times. The book will be for sale in the SAM SHOP for $50. Published by the University of Washington Press.
This exhibition is organized by the Seattle Art Museum under the direction of guest curator Barbara Johns. Johns is an art historian, curator, and the former chief curator of the Tacoma Art Museum.
This exhibition is organized by the Seattle Art Museum.