Chiura Obata started the art school at Topaz, and encouraged the internees to express their emotions through art. This is important to "Topaz Diary" because I hope to take visual cues from the art made by Mr. Obata, and his students. The storytelling will be made all the more powerful if we are able to capture some of the mood, emotion, of the paintings in the film.
Mr. Obata's paintings are especially powerful because he was trying to capture emotion, rather than realistically depict his surroundings. Some of his favorite subjects were the bleak Utah landscape, and the terrible dust storms that would cover Topaz for days at a time.
At the bottom of this post is a film by Oskar Fischinger. Not only were Mr. Fischinger's films made at about the same time as our story. Their abstract quality would be in line with Mr. Obata's art approach. I would like several sequences of Topaz Diary to include abstract imagery driven by music; particularly the dust storms in camp, and the attack on Pearl Harbor. Moving poetry; weaving concrete imagery in and out with more abstract imagery. But more about that in a later post.
Below is a little more background information about Mr. Obata himself.
Chiura Obata (小圃 千浦 Obata Chiura , Nov. 18, 1885 - 1975) was a well-known Japanese-American artist. He came to the United States in 1903, at age 17. After initially working as an illustrator and commercial decorator, he had a successful career as a painter, following a 1927 summer spent in the Sierra Nevada, and was a faculty member in the Art Department at the University of California at Berkeley from 1932 to 1953, interrupted by World War II, when he spent over a year in internment camps. After his retirement, he continued to paint and to lead group tours to Japan to see gardens and art.
Obata and his wife Haruko ran an art supply store on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, from which his wife offered lessons in ikebana. The shop was the target of a gun shot after the Pearl Harbor attack in December 1941, and eventually the Obatas were forced to close it and cancel all classes.
Executive Order 9066 led to Obata organizing a large sale of his many paintings and woodblock prints. He donated the profits from the sale to a campus student fund. University President Robert Gordon Sproul, a friend of the Obatas, offered to store many of the remaining works.
In April 1942, Obata was interned at the Tanforan detention center. By May, he and fellow artists were able to create an art school that had 600 students, entirely with their own money and with donations from the outside from friends from U.C. Berkeley. The school was so successful that they were able to exhibit the artwork outside the camp in July.
In September 1942, Obata was moved to the Topaz War Relocation Center in Topaz, Utah. There Obata was the founder and Director of The Topaz Art School, which had 16 artist/instructors who taught 23 subjects to over 600 students. During his internment, Obata made about one hundred sketches and paintings.
As director of the art school, Obata had worked closely with the intern camp administration. In the spring of 1943, with tensions high at the camp because of the signing of controversial loyalty oaths, Obata was attacked one night, ending up in the camp hospital for two weeks. He was released from Topaz immediately after he left the hospital. Obata moved with his family to St. Louis, Missouri, where Gyo, one of his sons, was going to architecture school.[
Above: A little more about Mr. Obata, and his beautiful, simple, artistic philosophy.