Obata Chiura (小圃千浦, November 18, 1885 - October 6, 1975) was born Obata Zoroku in Okayama, Japan and grew up in Sendai. He emigrated to California in 1903, where he pursued and taught painting and printmaking, leaving behind a highly distinctive and important body of work. His biography is summarized at our Obata Biography page.
Although many of Obata's paintings and watercolors feature natural realism, he was more interested in capturing kiin seidô ("living moment": 気韻生動), i.e., the essential nature of a scene or subject. This quality of observation and perceptiveness was transmitted through the artist's intuitive connection with the spirit of the subject. The energy of Obata's brushwork is an expression of living natural beauty.
With masterful control of sumi ink, Obata brings to life a pair of birds. The rendering of the feathers is particularly subtle, capturing not only their softness but also the strength needed to carry the birds aloft. The gesture of the upper bird spreading its wings is expressive and animated. The tonality of the satiny black is especially appealing.
Obata's painting is a fine example of decorative naturalism expressed through Obata's "living moment" idiom. In this painting the artist used a combination of saturated and dilute colors to render the leaves in a traditional manner reminiscent of suibokuga (monochrome ink compositions: 水墨画). The balance and contrast between painted forms and empty space is especially effective.
- Janice Driesbach and Susan Landauer: Obata's Yosemite: The Art and Letters of Chiura Obata from His Trip to the High Sierra in 1927.Yosemite Association, 1993, pp. 36, 54, and 56.
- ShiPu Wang: Chiura Obata: An American Modern. Art, Design & Architecture Museum, University of California, Santa Barbara, 2018.