Hideo Kobashigawa


Name Hideo Kobashigawa
Born February 22 1917
Died April 14 2001
Birth Location Phoenix, Arizona
Generational Identifier

Hideo Kobashigawa (1917-2001) was an oil, ink, and watercolor painter and printmaker who produced a substantial body of sketches, portraits, landscapes and prints during his incarceration in World War II American concentration camps.

He was born in Phoenix, Arizona, on February 22, 1917. His father, who came to Arizona through Mexico in 1906, established himself as a successful farmer in the United States and moved the family to Izumi in Okinawa Prefecture for the children's early education. Kobashigawa's interest in art, which began when he was a very young child in Arizona, grew while he lived in Okinawa, and he decided to become a professional artist. At the age of sixteen, he returned to the United States with his older brother to find farm work that would enable them to send money home to help support the family. The two brothers moved to the Los Angeles area in 1934, and found work in West Los Angeles as gardeners. His desire to become an artist remained, and with the support of his brothers, Kobashigawa enrolled at the Otis Art Institute for a year. A short film of Kobashigawa working in the studio was recorded by his older brother, Jiro, in this period. [1]

He was drafted into the service in the spring of 1941, and sent to Texas for basic training. However, Kobashigawa's behavior—he refused to handle a gun and spent all of his time sketching the camp and fellow soldiers—drew suspicion, and he was released from military service. He returned to Los Angeles, only to be sent almost immediately to Manzanar, where he spent most of his time focusing on his artwork. In Manzanar, he painted a series of images of the mountains above the camp, and included captions with many of the images, which he later bound together into book format and added written commentary about his experiences and memories. He also created a series of woodblock prints, intending to do a large edition and gift a print to every family in Manzanar, but the project was disrupted by his transfer to another camp. Following distribution of the so-called "loyalty questionnaire," Kobashigawa was labeled a "no-no boy" and sent to the Tule Lake Segregation Center, where he continued to paint prolifically. Following his release from camp in 1945, Kobashigawa moved to New York where he joined a group of artists who gathered at the studio of Taro Yashima and continued his formal art studies at the Art Students League. He also married fellow artist Masako Yamamoto, although the marriage didn't last. Kobashigawa moved to public housing in Brooklyn, where he lived for the next forty-three years, focused on his painting while supporting himself by working at a Japanese restaurant.

Kobashigawa rarely exhibited his work and chose not to sell his paintings. However, his work included in The View from Within, an important exhibition of art from concentration camps in 1992, which eventually led the Prefecture of Okinawa to mount a major retrospective of his work at the Naha Shimin Gallery and Motobu Chomin Gallery in Japan in 2000. His work is in the collections at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles and the Okinawa Prefectural Museum in Naha, Japan.

He moved to Los Angeles in 1999, and died on April 14, 2001.

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, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2008.

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, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2008), 359.