Arthur Shinji Okamura

Name Arthur Shinji Okamura
Born February 24 1932
Died July 10 2009
Birth Location Long Beach, Calif.
Generational Identifier


Painter, screen printer, sculptor and illustrator Arthur Shinji Okamura (1932-2009) was a prolific Nisei artist who rose to prominence in the 1960s as a book illustrator and prominent member of an artist community based in Bolinas, California.

Okamura was born in Long Beach, California, on February 24, 1932, and spent his childhood growing up in Compton, California. He was ten years old when he and his family were forced from their home and detained at the Santa Anita Assembly Center, soon after Pearl Harbor was bombed by Japan on December 7, 1941 . After six months at Santa Anita, he and his family were transferred to the Amache in Colorado, where they lived for three years. After the war, the Okamura family settled in Chicago , where Okamura attended public high school and with the encouragement of his art teacher who served as a reference, landed a job with a silkscreen poster studio at age fifteen. He eventually stayed with the studio for twelve years as their main layout artist and stencil cutter, mastering the skills of the trade. Beginning in 1950, Okamura attended the Art Institute of Chicago and married his first wife. His first solo exhibition was held in 1953 at the Frank Ryan Gallery in Chicago. Following graduation from the Art Institute, he was awarded an Edward L. Ryerson Foreign Travel Fellowship and decided to use the funds to go to the island of Mallorca to study painting. [1] In Mallorca, he became became immersed in a thriving artist community and became close friends with painter John Altoon and writer Robert Creeley, one of the originators of the "Black Mountain School" of poetry.

In 1956, Okamura moved from Chicago to San Francisco at the suggestion of his Chicago art dealer, Charles Feingarten, who was opening a gallery in San Francisco. [2] In 1959, now with four children, Beth, Jonathan, Jane, and Ethan, Okamura moved the family from San Francisco to Bolinas. In 1971, he created the pastel drawings for "The People," a television movie directed by West Marin's John Korty and also made a cameo appearance as "The Artist" in Korty's 1976 television film, " Farewell to Manzanar ." [3] During this period, Okamura began a professional relationship with the Braunstein/Quay Gallery in San Francisco, who represented his work for decades to come.

Okamura's artwork can be found in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., the Whitney Museum in New York, Stanford University, the Art Institute of Chicago and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. He had numerous solo and group or joint exhibits at prestigious venues including the Oakland Museum (1959), the California Palace of the Legion of Honor (1962), and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1968). He also illustrated over a dozen books over his career, namely limited edition, fine artists books including Basho , poems translated by Robert Bly, (Mudra, 1972), In the Wind, an American Poet in Wales by Ida Fox, (Antiphon Press, 1970), 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,0 by Robert Creeley (Shambala/Mudra, 1971), Ox Herding: A Reworking of Zen Text by Joel Weishaus (Cranium Press, 1971), Passionate Journey by Steve Kowit (City Miner Books, 1984), Just Space: Poems, 1979-1989 by Joanne Kyger (Black Sparrow Press, 1991), and Poems by Issa , by Robert Bly (Floating Island Publications, 2005). Known for his playful nature, he was also an amateur magician and wrote and illustrated Magic Rabbit's Book of Applied Rabbit Tricks (Jungle Garden Press, 1995) and "The Paper Propeller, the Spinning Quarter, the Jumping Frog and 38 Other Amazing Tricks You Can Do with Stuff Lying Around the House" (Shelter Publications, 2000). In 1997, he was commissioned to paint large silk banners to hang from the bandshell at Golden Gate Park as background sets for the first Watershed Environmental Poetry Festival, held in San Francisco. Okamura often traveled to exotic countries such as Bali, Indonesia, Japan, and Mexico where he was inspired by art and culture and his spiritual practice.

He taught at the California College of the Arts in Oakland for thirty-one years, retiring in 1997 as professor emeritus. Beginning in 1976, Okamura became deeply involved in the New School at Commonweal in Bolinas, a health and environmental research institute, serving on its board of directors for more than a decade, teaching a weekly art class, and mounting several exhibits of his work in the Commonweal gallery. [4] He died July 10, 2009 in Bolinas at age 77.

Authored by Patricia Wakida

For More Information

Arthur Okamura biography . Big Bridge online magazine.

" Arthur Okamura Memorial Page ." an archival site on the life and world of Shunryu Suzuki.

" Arthur Onward ", a film in production by John Korty.

Liberatore, Paul. Arthur Okamura obituary . Marin Independent Journal , July 11, 2009.


  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), 405.
  2. Arthur Okamura biography, Big Bridge online magazine, accessed on Aug. 4, 2013 at .
  3. Paul Liberatore, Arthur Okamura obituary, Marin Independent Journal , July 11, 2009, accessed on Aug. 4, 2013 at .
  4. Liberatore, Arthur Okamura obituary.

Last updated May 19, 2015, 8:41 p.m..