A portrait of the Obata, made by the great man himself, Ansel Adams.
Lake Basin in the High Sierra
In addition to being a traditional watercolor painter, Obata also produced woodblock prints. Obata oversaw the process of translating his watercolors into woodblock prints, a process that proved very demanding both in the carving and the printing (in Japan, the technique is called “moku hanga”). Some of his designs required as many as 160 separate impressions.
[I find it somewhat difficult to accurately describe the process of creating a woodblock. For example, let’s say you have a painting of a tree on a mountain above a lake. Using a blank piece of wood, the artist would first carve away everything but the mountain, and after applying paint to the remaining flat surface (which now resembles a mountain), would press surface against the paper to create the “image” of a mountain. The process would then be repeated for the lake, again for the tree, etc etc. This is an extremely complicated process, as each new impression required a new carving to act as the pattern for the paint. For a better explanation of woodcuts, click here.]
The resulting woodblock prints look remarkably similar to Obata's watercolors, with lines like sumi brush strokes and areas of delicately layered color. Here is a piece entitled Evening Glow at Mono Lake, from Mono Mills. The original watercolor is on the left, with the woodblock carving on the right.
Evening Glow at Mono Lake, from Mono Mills
On this wall, there are 20 progressive prints, and each print shows the progression of creating the woodcut.
Evening at Carl Inn
More of his images:
El Capitan, 1930
Life and Death at Porcupine Flat
Before Thunderstorm, Toulumne Meadows. In his notes from June 25, 1927, Obata wrote, "The spotlessly clear blue sky that sweeps high up over the mountain changes in a moment to a furious black color. Clouds call clouds. Pealing thunder shrieks and roars across black heavens. Men stands awestruck in the face of the great change of wonderous nature."
You can see the complete gallery of the “World Landscape Series” here.
Obata's Yosemite features 27 prints and watercolors and a series of progressive proofs. In addition, it includes a series of postcards he wrote his wife while in Yosemite, and a collection of his brushes and ink bottles.
Some of Obata's postcards home during his trip to Yosemite.
Brushes and bottles of watercolor paint.
This display is the first time the artist's prints have been publicly exhibited on the East Coast, and it ends on June 1. If you are coming to see it, you better hurry.
Personally, Ginger & I were fascinated as we walked through the exhibit, probably more fascinated than the ordinary visitor since so much of our past in wrapped around the Yosemite area. We had personally been to many of the places Obata had visited 81 years ago; as historians say, we had a connection. As I began to research into Obata’s personal life, I became even more intrigued. Come back next week for the details of Obata’s life—you don’t want to miss it.
The artist, as a young man.