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HIDEO DATE

(1907-2005)

SYNCHROMIST; GRAPHIC ARTIST

By Alisha Patrick

Hideo Date was a painter and graphic artist known for his ability to blend the diverse cultural styles of Japanese Nihonga and American Synchromism. He was sent to the Heart Mountain Relocation Center during the Japanese American internment of World War II where he and fellow artist Benji Okubo created an Art Students League for fellow interned individuals to continue the promotion and production of Japanese American art.




Table of Contents

I. BIOGRAPHY

Hideo Date was born in Osaka, Japan on January 5, 1907 and was the third son of Imasuke and Yusa Date. Shortly after his birth, Date’s family began to immigrate one by one to Fresno, California where his father ran a hardware store and saved money for his families travel expenses. In 1923, Date finally joined his father, mother, and brothers, becoming an “Issei” or Japanese American immigrant. He attempted to contribute to the family’s earnings by working in the orchards of central California, but this effort proved futile and Date’s father was forced to file for bankruptcy and relocate the family to Little Tokyo in Los Angeles, California in 1925.

Racial restrictions had forced many Japanese American families to move into communities such as Little Tokyo that would support businesses, schools, and churches created for and run by its residents. More importantly for Date, Little Tokyo and Los Angeles in general represented a complex intersection “where Asia, New York, Europe, and Hollywood converged, overlapped, and melded in a way that is only scantily understood” (Higa 7-8). After Date’s interest in drawing was sparked in high school art classes, he earned a scholarship to Otis Art Institute. He left the following year and returned to Japan to study Oriental art within its traditional setting, specifically, the Kawabata Painting School.

After studying in Japan for a year, Date had greatly improved his technical skill and returned to Los Angeles longing to learn a new intellectual dialogue about art to accompany his vastly growing skill. Date’s former high school art teacher had introduced him to the work of Stanton Macdonald-Wright (1890-1973) and suggested that Date study with Macdonald-Wright at the Los Angeles Art Students League.

Macdonald-Wright, arguably the most important California artist, had strong connections to the art worlds in both Paris and New York. He showed great interest in all forms of art and had been introduced to Asian art by historian Henri Focillon (Higa 12). With his interest sparked, Macdonald-Wright was by this time attempting to combine his Synchromist color theory with these new artistic styles. Date was therefore greatly welcomed by Macdonald-Wright because of his shared interest and traditional training. Higa states that “although direct influence may be impossible to pinpoint, it is highly likely that Macdonald-Wright learned just as much from his Japanese student as he taught him” (Higa 14).

During the 1930s Date became an established artist, participating in the annual exhibitions of Japanese Artists of Los Angeles, the Exhibition of Young Painters at the College Art Association, and the Foundation of Western Art. While this represented a great success for Date, the racial difficulties of the era remained ever present in his life. Though Date was a successful artist and his two brothers had college degrees, it was nearly impossible to find work within their fields of expertise and money was a constant issue. The family opened a flower shop where Date would work during the day and continued taking night classes at the Art Students League. In 1937, Macdonald-Wright took over the southern California Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project and commissioned Date to paint a mural for a school in Terminal Island, thus allowing him to be paid for his work. Terminal Island was the home of many Japanese American fishing families and with World War II rapidly becoming a reality, this population soon found themselves suspect to great suspicion. In 1942, all Japanese Americans on Terminal Island were directed to leave and Date’s mural disappeared forever.

During the early twentieth century, racism held a constant place within the lives of Japanese Americans, even within the first days Date had entered the country. He recalled viewing a sign on the first train to Fresno that read “Japs, Keep Moving,” which he could read, but not understand. However, nothing compared to the mass hysteria that was created after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. World War II would result in the incarceration of one hundred and twenty thousand Japanese Americans, including Date who was sent to the Santa Anita Race Track Assembly Center in April 1942, and then to Heart Mountain concentration camp in Wyoming (Higa 18).

Date’s friend and fellow artist Benji Okubo (1904-1975) was also incarcerated at Heart Mountain and the two joined together to create an art students league at the concentration camp. The two taught painting, drawing, and silkscreen methods to fellow Japanese American inmates and organized exhibitions for their students’ work. While the United States government supported such endeavors as a way to busy idle hands, supplies were difficult to come by within the camp. Thus, Date turned to drawing on paper during these years. He was also commissioned to paint a mural on a wall of the mess hall.

In 1945, Date left Heart Mountain and moved to New York City and attempted to restart his artistic career. Work did not come easily and as soon as Date had saved enough money, he returned to Los Angeles to gather his previous works together which friends had stored during his incarceration. In 1947, the Art Center School held a solo exhibition of Date’s work.

Date once again relocated to New York City with his brother Albert and through his wife, met Yuriko Tamaki, whom Date married during the same year. Date longed to travel and gain additional inspiration for his work, but was unable to venture outside the United States because of racial restrictions. Finally, following the passage of the Walter-McCarran Act of 1952, Japanese Americans were given the chance for naturalization. In 1955, Date became a naturalized citizen and thus gained the ability to travel freely, specifically to Italy and Paris. He formed a strong spiritual connection to Paris and continually traveled between New York City and Paris for the rest of his life.

Though he continued to create art, it is clear that World War II and the resulting incarceration of the Japanese American artistic community resulted in a profound change for the generation. Date would not hold a solo exhibition for over fifty years and the melding of different cultures that was intertwined within his work struggled to renew its previous fervor. Still, the complexity that caused many to marvel at his art remained throughout his career. The day following his ninety-eighth birthday, Date died at his home in Queens, New York in 2005.

II. AN ANALYSIS OF THE ARTIST'S WORK

“I am an American: a man of few words: an individualist, following my own convention.”— Hideo Date, June 2001

Hideo Date’s art represents both a complex dichotomy and an intersection of the United States and Japan. Even at the early stages of Date’s career, it became clear that he would need to find balance between his Japanese heritage and the Western art styles that he preferred to be associated with.

After winning a prestigious cash prize from Otis Art Institute, the school’s director met with Date and ironically told him it was a “tragedy” for him to paint in an “Asian” manner. Date replied, “I don’t know anything about Oriental art, and if you don’t like the way I paint, you can go to hell” (Higa 9). Date promptly quit the Institute and moved back to Japan in 1929 to study Asian art. His goal was to learn all he could about Oriental art in order to position himself against this traditional background or at least find a method that allowed for both Japanese and Western sensibilities.

It was not uncommon during the 1920s for Issei parents to send their children on educational trips to Japan in an attempt to bridge the cultural gap created by racial hostility present in the United States. Date’s art would further the concept of melding cultural interests by firmly rooting itself within both Japanese Nihonga, taught through Kawabata Gyokusho (1842-1913), and Syncromism, taught by Stanton Macdonald-Wright (1890-1973).

Nihonga was created in the mid 1800s in response to Western oil painting that entered the country during the Meiji Restoration and is characterized by the use of traditional materials, such as mineral pigments on silk. Within Date’s early work of the 1930s, he frequently layered watercolor creating large, opaque areas with strong line typical of traditional Japanese art.

Macdonald-Wright had developed Syncromist color theory with Morgan Russell (1886-1953), which argued that “planes of juxtaposed colors could produce spatial depth that optically suggested movement…a method of abstraction linking color theory to music” (Higa 11).

While both traditions are present within Date’s work, the artist would continually seek training that reflected the Western side of his background, thus Date downplayed the Nihonga influence within his work and greatly favored the impact of Macdonald-Wright on his art, reaffirming the fact that “capturing essential form and mood was paramount; likeness was of limited importance” (Higa 14).

Date’s incarceration at Heart Mountain would signal a profound change within his subject matter. Prior to 1945, his works typically consisted of figurative paintings with Synchromist color techniques. While at Heart Mountain, Date’s drawings reveal an obsession with cats that personify human qualities while maintaining an innate freedom that only animals seemingly possess.

After his release from Heart Mountain, Date attempted to reestablish himself, leaning toward abstraction and abandoning watercolor in favor of oil paint. From the late 1950s through the 1980s, Date continued his experiments with Syncromism, primarily through the use of Abstract Expressionism.

III. CHRONOLOGY

  • 1907 Born in Osaka Japan
  • 1923 Immigrates to California
  • 1925 Receives scholarship to Otis Art Institute
  • 1929 Studies in Japan at the Kawabata Gakko
  • 1935 Holds one-person exhibition at Howey’s Bookstore, Los Angeles
  • 1942-1945Incarcerated in Heart Mountain Concentration Camp
  • 1942-1943 Paints mural, Age of Confusion, In Search of the Truth, and Destination, for mess hall at Heart Mountain
  • 1945 Moves to New York City
  • 1947 Marries Yuriko Tamaki on March 23
  • 1955 Becomes a United States citizen after Walter-McCarran Act is passed
  • 2005 Dies in Queens, New York
  • IV. COLLECTIONS

  • Smithsonian Institution
  • Los Angeles County Museum of Art
  • V. EXHIBITIONS

  • 1931 San Diego Art Gallery, CA
  • 1932 Los Angeles Public Library, Hollywood Branch, CA
  • 1932 Ferargil Galleries, New York City, NY
  • 1933 Olympic Hotel, Los Angeles, CA
  • 1933 Palos Verdes Community Art Association, CA
  • 1933-41 The Foundation of Western Art, Los Angeles, CA
  • 1934 Los Angeles Art Association, CA
  • 1934 Laguna Beach Art Association, CA
  • 1936 Oriental Artists of Los Angeles, Santa Monica Library, Santa Monica, CA
  • 1936 Faulkner Memorial Art Gallery, CA
  • 1936 Los Angeles Museum, Exposition Park, CA
  • 1939 The California Art Club, Los Angeles, CA
  • 1939 Los Angeles Museum, CA
  • 1939 Otis Art institute Alumni Association, Los Angeles, CA
  • 1940 Raymond and Raymond Galleries, Los Angeles, CA
  • 1940 Stendahl Art Galleries, Los Angeles, CA
  • 1941 Los Angeles Art Association, CA
  • 1942 Heart Mountain Concentration Camp Barracks, WY
  • 1947 Art Center School, Los Angeles, CA
  • 1947 American Watercolor Society, New York City, NY
  • 1952-53 Art Institute of Chicago, IL
  • 1954 Creative Galleries, New York City, NY
  • 1957 The Nonagon Gallery, New York City, NY
  • 1977 Artists Association of New York, Azuma Gallery, NY
  • 2000 Autry Museum of Western Heritage, Los Angeles, CA
  • 2000 Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA
  • 2001 Japanese American National Museum, Los Angeles, CA
  • VI. MEMBERSHIPS

  • The Independents
  • Los Angeles Art Students League
  • WPA/ Federal Arts Project
  • VII. AWARDS

  • 1928 Cash Prize, Otis Art Institute Exhibition, CA
  • 1934 Citizens Merit Award, Los Angeles Art Association, CA
  • VIII. BIBLIOGRAPHY

    1. 1. Higa, Karin. Living in Color: The Art of Hideo Date. Berkeley: Heyday Books: 2001.

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