The Estate of Arthur Okamura joins Paul Thiebaud Gallery
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The Estate of Arthur Okamura joins Paul Thiebaud Gallery
Arthur Okamura, Garden II, 2003, oil on canvas, 18 x 24 inches. © 2023 Estate of Arthur Okamura.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA.- Paul Thiebaud Gallery announced its representation of the Estate of Arthur Okamura. Primarily known as a painter, Arthur Okamura (1932-2009) was an important Japanese American (Nisei) artist from the San Francisco Bay Area who also became known for his drawings, watercolors, printmaking, and illustrations for books of poetry.

Over the course of nearly six decades, Arthur Okamura’s artworks evolved as he moved through several stylistic shifts. Okamura is best known for his expansive series of abstract expressionist paintings and watercolors, his first mature body of work. Created between 1956 and the early 1960s after he had moved his family to San Francisco, Okamura’s abstract paintings are infused with the principles of Zen Buddhist thought, exploring territory different from his contemporaries.

As the 1960s progressed, Okamura explored the burgeoning psychedelic movement alongside his Zen practice under master Suzuki Roshi. The works created during these years all bear the hallmarks of what is now known as the Visionary Art Movement. Influenced by the works of early modern masters such as Pablo Picasso and Paul Klee, many of the compositions are composed of numerous tiny human figures stacked and otherwise combined to form larger recognizable shapes, such as a feather or still life of a plant. Other subject matter explored during these years include poetic still lifes of flowers in vases and dreamy landscapes with animals. In 1966, Okamura began teaching at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland (now California College of the Arts in San Francisco) and would continue there until his retirement in 1997. He also taught classes at schools and art centers across the United States and abroad throughout his career.

The early 1970s marks the beginning of Okamura fusing his art with the writings of his poetic community of friends. Over the next four decades, Okamura collaborated on six books of poetry and one book of magic tricks with poets Robert Bly, Robert Creeley, Joel Weishaus, Steve Kowit, and Joanne Kyger. He would also have his paintings and drawings reproduced on the covers of numerous books of poetry.

The 1970s also coincided with a shift in his art towards expressive realism, but one suffused with a sense of Zen spiritualism and, at times, containing surreal elements. Major series include a decades long exploration of rock gardens, large-scale watercolors of the cliffs surrounding Lake Powell, paintings of temple ruins in Mexico and Bali, flower gardens in Hawaii, and views from the Bolinas Shoreline, to highlight a few. Okamura would continue in this expressionist mode until his death in 2009.

Born in Long Beach, CA, in 1932, Arthur Shinji Okamura grew up in the city of Compton, a part of greater Los Angeles. During WWII, Okamura and his family were first moved to the Santa Anita Racetrack Assembly Center and later sent to the Amache Internment Camp near Granada, CO. When the war ended, Okamura’s family moved to Chicago. Between 1950 - 1954, Okamura studied painting at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He also took classes at the University of Chicago and a summer seminar at Yale University. While still a student, Okamura had his first solo exhibition of paintings at Frank Ryan Gallery in 1953. He would later show with important American dealers Charles Feingarten (Feingarten Galleries), Diana Fuller (Hansen Fuller Gallery) and Ruth Braunstein (Braunstein/Quay Gallery).

Arthur Okamura’s paintings, drawings, watercolors, and prints have been exhibited extensively across the United States and can be found in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Smithsonian American Art Museum; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; Art Institute of Chicago; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Phoenix Art Museum; Cincinnati Art Museum; Oakland Museum of California; San Jose Museum of Art; Crocker Art Museum; di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art; Bolinas Museum, and the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, among others.

Paul Thiebaud Gallery will present its first exhibition of Arthur Okamura’s works in February 2024.

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