Abstraction, Color, Hue, International, Japan, Japan Post War, Lantern of the East, LELA International, Los Angeles, Los Angeles Painting, Modernist, Nagasaki, Southern California, Southern California Painting
Los Angeles 1986 / Boston 2017
The distinguished California abstract painter Hideo Sakata is best known for complex and tightly organized compositions. These works frequently make use of circular shapes functioning as portals which puncture panels of color. Each window provides a separate vision into tiers of variegated color below. His palette is most often bright, with hues drawn from a full range of warm pigments. Wonderful lemony yellows give way to a citrus green then again partially obscured by a sky-toned cerulean.
The compositional arrangement is suggestive of deep spaces, opening into even deeper cavities. Like tunnels, catacombs or caverns. The brightest set of hues appear at the very rear, almost as if we are standing inside a shaded arbor looking past leaf and vine into a sun-drenched bright spot on the horizon. The effect is quite handsome. The paintings are beautifully crafted and vary in size from an intimate scale to large.
Contributing to the sense of scale is a densely organized pattern of circular shapes of differing importance. Some are grand, revealing much of the layer behind; others are diminutive, being just large enough to hint at the continuation of the pattern below. At times, the pattern seems so pleasantly calibrated as to mimic musical cadences. In some instances, the artist interferes with our expectations by breaking into something else altogether.
The single most engaging and perhaps the most difficult aspect of Sakata’s work is a certain “otherness.” His beautiful works do not intersect with Modernism, let alone California or Asian Modernism. In both color and composition, his choices push off to the outer ledges of perception and convention. That is to say, such color combinations as a lime green and cerulean blue can be unexpected, otherworldly and not unanimously popular. Nonetheless, the paintings are enchanting.
Sakata solo showings include: Gallery Markant, Langelo, The Netherlands; Modern Art Gallery, Los Angeles; Stone Institute, New York; William and Catherine Hemmerdinger Gallery, Palm Desert; Noba Gallery, New York; Nagasaki Museum of Art, Nagasaki, Japan. Group showings include: Ueno Museum, Tokyo, Japan; Olympic Arts Festival, Seoul, Korea; Japanese American Community Cultural Center, Los Angeles; Rajamangala University, Bangkok, Thailand; ASTO Museum, Los Angeles; Pyong-Taek Museum of Art, Pyong-taek, Korea; Nagasaki-ken Museum of Art, Nagasaki, Japan; San Francisco Museum of Art, California; Azuma Gallery, New York; M.M. Shinno Gallery, Los Angeles; Westbeth Gallery, New York; Lela International, Los Angeles.
A review of the art and life of Hideo Sakata, especially a retrospective discussion such as this one, would be incomplete without commentary on two additional aspects of his remarkable career. Hideo Sakata has an extraordinary life. He is loved and admired by countless people around the world. Sakata is a highly praised curator, educator and arts activist on an international stage. His personal trait of generosity coupled with commitment to people, artists, ideas and community have led him to organize amazing children’s art programs, lectures, demonstrations, performances, catalogs, and digital catalogs in addition to operating the gallery arm of Lela International, a venerable organization for which he functioned as impetus and co-founder. In his Lela capacity, he has curated international art festivals and exhibitions appearing at the Japanese American Community Cultural Center, Los Angeles; L. A. Artcore, Los Angeles; The Art Bank, Los Angeles; Pyong Taek Museum of Art, Pyong-taek, Korea; Manila Cultural Center, Manila, Philipines; Atelier Grognard, Paris, France; Nagasaki-ken Museum of Art, Nagasaki, Japan; National Center for Aesthetics, Yerevan, Armenia; National Museum of Art, Yerevan, Armenia; Burapha University, Thailand; Lalit Kala Academy, New Delhi, India; King Mongkut’s Technological Institute, Bangkok, Thailand; Boyusan Cultural Center, Pusan, Korea; and many more. These achievements were often carried out through international collaborative effort with distinguished colleagues, host curators and galleries or other agencies.
As is the custom in Asia, exhibition catalogs often include dedications and proclamations from dignitaries, which serve as an expression of appreciation to event organizers and participants. Examination of previous Sakata projects reveals many letters of praise, recognition, commendation and support from such notables as long-time participant and collaborator Kamol Tassananchalee; artist, actor and native-American activist Russell Means; actor and activist George Takei; artist and L.A. Artcore gallery director, Lydia Takeshita; Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California; Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa of City of Los Angeles; Mayor Tom Bradley of City of Los Angeles; Consul General of Japan, Kazuo Kodama, and artists Minoru Niizuma, Sam Francis, Fonje de Vre, Tadashi Hayakawa, Bong Tae Kim, Kenji Shiokava, Nancy Uyemura, Joseph Piasentin, Matthew Thomas, Jr. and many others.
Rarely, do we have the opportunity to honor a great friend. Especially with 80th birthday wishes. For more than half of that life, Sakata has qualified without equal as my best friend, and, his friendship would often be expressed in marvelous (and sometimes amusing) ways. When my children were small, we were residing in the desert east of Los Angeles. Sakata would often make a special trip to visit me, rather than wait for me to make a studio visit to the city – bringing friendship, ideas, garden supplies, books and treats for the children and more. His personal generosity being such as it is, and knowing that fish is not always abundant in the desert, he would make a unique and special effort. Quite early on the day of his intended visit, and before driving the two hours east to my home, Sakata would collect from fishermen in San Pedro an assortment of fresh fish and crustaceans. He’d pack all this finest quality seafood in an ice chest and bring it with him to my house in the desert. A gift. A meal. A wonderful evening. Once, while unloading from his vehicle, an ice chest handle broke with the case crashing open on the ground. Large whole crabs tumbled out and scampered in every direction across my driveway, into the desert garden among the barrel cactus and cholla. Sakata was embarrassed and flustered, but my young children squealed with delight!
Sakata’s loyalty and generous spirit may have much to do with an intense childhood memory. Born in Nagasaki, Japan, Sakata was a child when the United States of America dropped the nuclear bomb on Nagasaki. Shortly after the explosion, he was separated from family, but for his grandmother. The old woman put Sakata inside a wheelbarrow, covered him with damp blankets, and ran as far as she was able, pushing the youngster in the makeshift cartage. Only later, a few days or so, they would return to the blast center with relief workers to search for surviving relatives. Many Sakata family members were lost. His father and two sisters died from the effects of the nuclear fall-out. Sakata survived. He thrived in Post-war Japan, going to art school and university. Eventually, he relocated to the Americas. First to an established Japanese community in Latin America, and then to Los Angeles. Sakata settled downtown, near the historic Temple on First Street. As an adult he would become reunited with mother and sister. Sadly, both suffered the long-term effects of nuclear radiation.
In the seventies, the refreshments for art openings at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art were set up on the lower level, in front of the bas-relief sculptural walls from Ashurbanipal (among my favorite works of art). One time, while standing just there, in the wine queue, I was introduced to Sakata by the legendary American painter, Sam Francis, who said to me: “You are going to love this guy!” Indeed.
Sakata-san, becomes 80 years of age soon, and in a recent note to me, handwritten in English and Japanese, he wrote: “I’ll arrange shows in… China, Japan, Thailand, Armenia…. Then in four years — age 84—I’ll retire.”
Friends of Hideo Sakata have started a high school / college art scholarship in his honor. If you wish to join others recognizing this exceptional artist, please make a contribution to The Hideo Sakata Fine Art Scholarship Award, c/o Craig Cooley, Lela International, 1029 West 161st Street, Suite B, Gardena, California 90247
For more about Hideo Sakata please see: https://www.hideosakata.com/
Additional information in the form of catalogs, photographs, correspondence and documents related to Hideo Sakata art may also be found in the archived William Hemmerdinger Papers at the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.