Frank Taira received his art education in San Francisco. With the onset of World War II, Taira was interned for several years. During his internment, he taught art alongside fellow Japanese American artist Chiura Obata. Following his release, he moved to New York City, where he has lived and worked until his death in 2010.
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Frank Morihiko Taira was born on August 21, 1913 in San Francisco, CA of Japanese parents. From 1935-1938, Taira studied at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco (now the San Francisco Art Institute). His instructors at CSFA included some of the modernist powerhouses of the West Coast art scene: Victor Arnautoff, Otis Oldfield and the director of the school, Lee Randolph. In 1940, he won first prize at the school’s student exhibition. In these early years, he did not limit his studies to the visual arts; he also studied voice at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
In 1939, he exhibited at a juried show at the San Francisco Museum of Art (now the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) and at the Oakland Municipal Gallery. Shortly thereafter, Taira was invited to prepare a one-man show at the San Francisco Museum of Art. He was a resident of San Francisco until 1942, when he was interned at Tanforan in San Bruno, and then sent to the Topaz Internment Camp in Utah.
As with many Japanese Americans, Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 interrupted Taira’s promising career for the duration of World War II. He, along with Chiura Obata, George Matsusaburo Hibi and Mine Okubo, taught art at the Topaz Camp. Upon his release, he moved to New York City where he remained until his death. While in New York, he further continued his education at Columbia University in 1945, the Arts Students League, and the New School for Social Research. He also pursued studies in guitar.
Taira works primarily in oil, although he has also worked in bronze, watercolor and pen and ink. His powerful pen and ink drawings from the early 1950s document an 18-month stay in a TB sanitarium. Many of his pieces have won prizes in juried shows. His work has been exhibited both in the United States and Italy.
Taira’s body of work reflects his journey from a classical training through an experimental phase of semi-abstraction, and his gradual return to realism in the late 1960s. After WWII, Taira decided to focus on creating beauty and peace through his art. “I try to control both strength and sensitivity while working,” said Taira, “all art must resort to personal feelings, the harmony and vision within you.” The themes in his work reflect that decision.
|Festival II, 1960|
Like so much colored confetti, this large canvas, recounts the dichotomy of Taira's path as an artist. He started his career in the '30s as a representational artist. After his early training and his internment during WWII at Topaz, Utah, he moved to New York and reveled in the elements of abstraction. Sometime in the '60s, Taira returned to the world of representation, developing a representative clarity that has elements of the work of the American Precisionists.
At first glance Festival II is a playful composition of abstracted patches of bright color arranged in an allusive sense of vortices. It is possible to completely enjoy this painting for its celebration of color for its own sake. However, the title of Festival II leads us to a more critical viewing and slowly figures emerge. On closer inspection, there are many figures and portraits. In the upper center there is an abstracted figure's face with arms raised as if a waiving bystander at a parade. There are at least four other faces running across the upper third of the painting, each, once discovered, easily recognized.
II. AN ANALYSIS OF THE ARTIST'S WORK
All artists develop their style over time. Some artists, like Mark Rothko, find a voice early in their career, and spend the rest of their years exploring that vision. Taira was different; he continued exploring and evolving for all of his sixty-some year career. Although there are some themes and stylistic elements consistent throughout Tiara’s work, he painted his way through several, sometimes contradictory, expressions.
Taira was in the midst of a blossoming career when, at the age of 29, he was interned. Prior to his internment, he held early group exhibitions and was promised a solo exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art. However, his career was suspended when he was, without ceremony, carted off to Topaz, Utah. We are left to speculate what he, and similar artists lost due to the years they were forced to spend at internment camps. Where would life have taken them, had they been allowed to continue their careers, uninterrupted?
As with most of the artists who were interned during these years, they were shuttled away without warning, and their possessions were lost or stolen in the process. Not a single piece of Tiara’s work before WWII survives. His school sketches, the influence of his early teachers and the development of his unique style are consequently unrecorded. The earliest recorded painting by Taira, Bunny, is dated 1943 and was completed while the aritst was interned. A competition was sponsored by the Quaker Friends Meeting House in Cambridge Massachusetts for interned artists of Japanese descent and Taira won $20 for 1st Prize in the Portrait category.
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|Bunny, 1943, Oil on Canvas, approximately 24" x 20"|
This portrait provides a raw view of the plight of interned women. Bunny's head rests on her hand while she clutches what appears to be a scrap of drawing paper. Sorrow and hopelessness come to play in this prize-winning portrait.
1935-38 California School of Fine Arts
1945 Columbia University, New York City
1956 Art Students League, New York City
1957 New School For Social Research, New York City
|Young Frank Taira, Circa 1960|
Ever so confident, seasoned by his San Francisco education, two years of internment and a more than a decade of commitment to his talent, the painter finds himself ensconced in this New York City studio, in the midst of didactic boards of from what looks to be an early solo exhibiton and a dozen pieces of his work, including a single watercolor and his works in oil.
At least one historian familiar with Taira's work commented that the guitar player (upper left in the photo) appears to be a very early piece of the artist's work, perhaps a self portrait from the 40's, while the painting of the bridge which the artist is holding and the cubist abstract on the wall to the right of the artist, would appear to be from the early 60's. The pose held by the guitar player is very similar to the Guitar Player in the upper left corner of this page which is dated 1962. Taira, as an artist, often worked a single composition over and over in several different paintings, refining and exploring its possibilities.
Japanese American National Museum, Los Angeles, CA
Michael Brown Collection, San Francisco, CA
Sullivan Goss Collection, Santa Barbara, CA
1968 Emily-Lowe Foundation, Syracuse, NY
1980 Caravan House Gallery, NY, NY
1985 The Marseilles, NY
1992 Frank Taira: The Evolution of an American Artist, Gazoli Gallery, San Rafael, CA
1999 Frank Taira: Small Works, Artsforum Gallery, NY
2005 Hudson Arts Guild Gallery, NY
2011 "Frank Taira: The Color Inside" Sullivan Goss – An American Gallery, Santa Barbara, CA
1939 San Francisco Museum of Art, CA
1939 Oakland Municipal Gallery, CA
1940 California School of Fine Arts, CA
1941 San Francisco Art Association, CA
1943 Relocation Center Art Exhibit, Friends Center, Cambridge, MA
1953 Collectors of American Art, Inc., NY
1954 National Arts Club, NY
1955 National Arts Club, NY
1955 Collectors of American Art, Inc., NY
1959 RT Directions Gallery/RTS Center Gallery, NY
1959 Arts Center Gallery/Art Directions Gallery, NY
1960 Arts Center Gallery/Art Directions Gallery, NY
1962 Gimbels, NY
1962 Knickerbocker Artists, National Arts Club, NY
1967 Hudson Arts Guild Gallery, NY
1968 National Arts Club, NY
1968 Knickerbocker Artists, National Arts Club, NY
1969 F.A.R. Gallery
1969 National Arts Club, NY
1970 National Arts Club, NY
1970 First Annual New York International Art Show, Armonk, NY
1971 Knickerbocker Artists, National Arts Club, NY
1976 National Academy of Design, NY
1976 Allied Artists of America, NY
1976 Painters & Sculptors Society of New Jersey, National Arts Club, NY
1977 Knickerbocker Artists, National Arts Club, NY
1978 International Society of Artists First Annual Juried Art Show, National Arts Club, NY
1981 Accademia Italia delle Arti e del Lavoro
1982 Horizon Galleries
1984 7th Annual Open Juried Exhibition for Non-Members, Salmagundi Club, The
Center for American Art, NY
1987 Audubon Artists, NY
1989 Society of Landscape and Figurative Artists
1998 Biennale Internazionale Bell’Arte Contemporanea, Florence, Italy
2001 Biennale Internazionale Bell’Arte Contemporanea, Florence, Italy
Artists Equity Association of New York
Painters and Sculptors Society of New Jersey
- 1. Aoki, Hiroshi ed., Jassi Reports: Spring/Summer, New York: Japanese American Social Services, Inc., 2007.
- 2. “Art,” New York Times, Oct. 26, 1980, pg. D60.
- 3. “Artist Taira Exhibits in New York,” Pacific Citizen, Friday, July 26, 1985.
- 4. “Arts and Entertainment Guide,” New York Times, Nov. 2, 1980, pg. GU14.
- 5. Brown, Michael. Views From Asian California 1920-1965, CA: ArtNetwork, 1992.
- 6. Chang, Johnson & Karlstrom. Asian American Art. Starting From Here. CA: Stanford University Press. (In Press anticipated fall of 2008.)
- 7. di Firenze, Cittta, Biennale Internazionale Dell’Arte Contemporanea, Dictionary of
International Biography. Florence, Italy: Arte Studio, 2001.
- 8. “Display Ad 44,” New York Times, Feb. 12, 1962, pg. 9.
- 9. Dunsterville, Hilary, “Art Reviews,” The Village Voice, Oct. 2, 1958.
- 10. “Exhibition at Arts Center Gallery: Evi Fisk and Frank Taira,” Arts Magazine, v. 34, Feb. 1960, p. 69.
- 11. Falk, Peter Hastings ed., Who Was Who in American Art: 1564-1975, v. III, Madison, CT: Sound View Press, 1999.
- 12. “Frank Taira- Nisei Artist to Have One-Man Exhibition,” New York Nichibei, Thursday, July 4, 1985, p.1-2.
- 13. “Gallery Exhibits Paintings of JA Artist Frank Taira,” Hokubei Mainichi, Tuesday, July 14, 1992.
- 14. Hall, Dorothy, “Art and Artists: Taira at Caravan,” Park East, Nov. 1980.
- 15. Hill, Kimi Kodani ed., Chiura Obata’s Topaz Moon: Art of the Internment, Berkeley, CA: Heyday Books, 2000.
- 16. Hughes, Edan Milton, Artists in California 1786-1940, 3rd edition, Sacramento, CA: 2002.
- 17. Jaques Cattell Press (Ed.) Who’s Who in American Art. NY: R.R. Bower Co, 1976 & 1978.
- 18. Mallett, Daniel Trowbridge, Mallett's Index of Artists, International – Biographical, New York: Peter Smith, 1948, p. 283.
- 19. Ogata, Tami, “Frank Taira’s Art at the Marseilles,” New York Nichibei, Thursday, July 18, 1985 p. 1-2.
- 20. Opitz, Glenn B. ed., Dictionary of American Sculptors: 18th Century to the Present, Poughkeepsie, NY: Apollo,1984.
- 21. Smith, C. ed., Encyclopedia of Living Artists 1998/99, 10th ed., Ca: ArtNetwork, 1997.
- 22. “40 Years of Taira Paintings on Display in San Rafael,” Nichi Bei Times, Tuesday, July 21, 1992.
IX. WORKS FOR SALE BY THIS ARTIST
San Francisco Harbor