George Matsusaburo Hibi


Name George Matsusaburo Hibi
Born June 21 1886
Died June 30 1947
Birth Location Iimura, Japan
Generational Identifier

Issei

George Matsusaburo Hibi (1886-1947) was an influential American artist, known for his oil painting and printmaking, who was central to prewar California art associations and in the creation of art schools in both the Tanforan Assembly Center and the concentration camp at Topaz, Utah, during World War II.

He was born in Iimura, Shiga Prefecture in Japan, on June 21, 1886, and immigrated to the United States in 1906, following a brief period studying law. He landed in Seattle, Washington, where he studied English, before moving to San Francisco in 1919, and began contributing his drawings and cartoons to several California newspapers and Japanese publications.[1] That same year, he enrolled at the California School of Fine Arts, where he eventually worked as a staff member in a number of capacities: as a gardener, custodian, store clerk, and teaching assistant, offering demonstrations on batik processes, among other technical artistic skills. Hibi participated in several notable group exhibitions in Northern California throughout the 1920s and 1930s. He was one of the founders of the East West Art Society, helping to arrange the group's exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art in 1922, as well as the Amateur and Professional Artist Society in 1927.

In 1930, Hibi married a fellow artist and former student at the California School of Fine Arts, Hisako Shimizu (Hisako Hibi), and in 1933, the couple moved first to Mt. Eden, and then Hayward, California, where they raised their two children. In Hayward, Hibi began a Japanese-language school and continued to paint and hold exhibitions, including a 1937 solo show in which he presented ninety works. He was included in numerous group exhibitions at this time, in venues across the state such as the California State Fair, Sacramento (1938), the San Francisco Museum of Art (1939, 1940), and even at the Oakland Art Gallery (1943), while still incarcerated in a World War II concentration camp.

As the threat of war breaking out between Japan and the United States became unavoidable, Hibi donated fifty paintings to community venues in Hayward, stating "There is no boundary in art. This is the only way I can show my appreciation to my many American friends here."[2] Despite these efforts, very few prewar works exist. After Executive Order 9066 was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942, setting the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans off of the West Coast into motion, Hibi and his wife were moved to the Tanforan Assembly Center in San Bruno, California. Once the couple were settled, Hibi helped organize an art school in collaboration with artist Chiura Obata, structuring the curriculum on the mode of the California School of Fine Arts. After the Hibis were moved to a more permanent camp in Topaz, Utah, in 1942, a similar fine art school was set up for the incarcerees, offering instruction in sketching, watercolor, sumi-e, oil painting, and other technical workshops. The Topaz Art school also exhibited the work produced in camp. Some of Hibi's paintings and woodblock prints from the Topaz period, featuring the snowy barracks, desert landscapes and wolves circling the camp, are among his most well-known and respected. Following the medical release of Obata from Topaz in 1943, Hibi continued as the director of the art school for over two years.

In 1945, Hibi and his family relocated to New York City, where he exhibited with the Associated American Artists (1945). While he had hoped to revive his career as an artist on the East Coast, his health deteriorated. Hibi died of cancer on June 30, 1947 in New York, just a few days after his sixty-first birthday. His paintings were later featured in a major exhibition of art produced in the World War II concentration camps entitled "The View from Within: Japanese American Art from the Internment Camps, 1942-1945", in 1992.

Authored by Patricia Wakida

For More Information

Chang, Gordon H., Mark Dean Johnson, and Paul J. Karlstrom, editors. Asian American Art: A History, 1850-1970. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008.

Lee, Ibuki. California Asian American Artists Biographical Survey project interview, San Francisco. April 25, 1995.

The View from Within: Japanese American Art from the Internment Camps, 1942-1945. Los Angeles: Japanese American National Museum, UCLA Wight Art Gallery, and UCLA Asian American Studies Center, 1992.

Footnotes

  1. Gordon H. Chang, Mark Dean Johnson, and Paul J. Karlstrom, editors, Asian American Art: A History, 1850-1970 (Stanford University Press, 2008), 327.
  2. Chang, et al., Asian American Art, 327.