BY ALAN CHONG LAU
Pacific Reader Coordinator
As the year winds down, we are in the enviable position of seeing three new books on artists from the Northwest just published. As local independent curator Beth Sellars once told me, “It’s critical that artists get documented in print form because each publication helps mark their growth.”
“Minidoka Revisited – The Painting of Roger Shimomura” (Lee Gallery, Clemson University) by William W. Lew as distributed by the University of Washington Press. This is not the first publication on this artist but it does cover a key influence on his work. This exhibition catalog focuses on the camp diary entries of his grandmother, a local mid-wife. As Susan L. Smith states in her essay, “Her diaries are important for the study of women’s history because there is so little primary material available that tells the story of World War II from the perspective of Japanese American women, especially women of the immigrant generation.” People who enjoy Shimomura’s art because of its pop art/comic book references or his cartoony riffs off the Japanese woodblock print tradition are not getting the whole picture.
This catalog with astute essays by art and internment historians and an interview with the artist himself goes a long way towards filling in a more comprehensive picture of the artist and the history of Japanese Americans including the internment experience. As an added bonus, the series, “Stereotypes And Admonitions” recently shown at Greg Kucera Gallery and published originally as a separate booklet is included here. It reads like a textbook on how racial stereotyping can cripple any real understanding of a group of people.
“Between Clouds Of Memory: Akio Takamori, A Mid-career survey” (Arizona State University/Herberger College) edited by Peter Held as distributed by the University of Washington Press. This book gives us an insightful look at the career of this ceramic artist and UW Professor. From his early trials as a functional pottery disciple in Japan to his later flowering as a ceramic sculptor in the United States, the essays in this book give us a biography of the artist as well as insights into his career with full color plates of his work. It is with wonder that we see his early mischievous erotic nudes are later transformed into depictions of fellow villagers after the war and then world figures such as McArthur, Hirohito and the Empress Dowager. What follows the artist throughout is a sense of humor and humanity, an open eye unafraid of depicting the human condition in all of its manifest forms. The exhibition that this book is based on comes to Tacoma Art Museum in the spring of 2006. Don’t miss it!
“Frank Okada: The Shape of Elegance” (Museum of Northwest Art/University of Washington Press). A certain disclaimer should precede any discussion of this book. This is a catalog for the current exhibition at the Museum of Northwest Art in La Conner until Jan. 8. The show was co-curated and the essay written by my wife, Kazuko Nakane. That being said, I still find this publication important for the light it sheds on this unassuming yet superb colorist whose work derives from such myriad influences as the Northwest, the New York scene and the cultures of Europe and East Asia. The color plates, though skillfully taken, cannot convey the luminous aura that pervades these paintings of layered color and carefully applied brushstrokes. Take a trip out to the museum and see the work for yourself. It will make a real difference after reading the catalog.