Henry (Yuzuru) Sugimoto

Theme/Style – Modernism, landscapes, genre scenes, portraits

Media – Oil, watercolor, ink, printmaking, murals

Artistic Focus – Henry Sugimoto’s skill and sense of color and mood was evident in his early landscape paintings from the 1930s, whose style was infused with multiple artistic and cultural influences, from his Japanese upbringing to the salons of Paris, as well as the California landscape. But what shaped his later career and artistic sensibility was his internment during World War II, and the body of work he created that both highlighted and transcended that experience.

Career Highlights –

• Henry (Yuzuru) Sugimoto was born in Wakayama, Japan, in 1900. His parents immigrated to the U.S. when he was a child, and at age 19 he joined them in Hanford, in California’s Central Valley. After graduating from Oakland’s California School of Arts and Crafts in 1928, he took classes at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco before traveling to Europe in 1929.
• In Paris, Sugimoto became part of the city’s community of Japanese artists, and from 1929 to 1931 he studied painting at the Académie Colarossi and spent time sketching in the French countryside. His French landscape paintings were well received, and he was included in the Salon d’Automne in Paris in 1931.
• On his return to the U.S. with some 200 paintings, Sugimoto had a solo exhibition at San Francisco’s California Palace of the Legion of Honor in 1933, followed by representation by the city’s Courvoisier Gallery. He was also included in two exhibitions at Los Angeles’s Foundation of Western Art, The Contemporary Oriental Artists (1934) and Exhibition of California Oriental Painters (1937), with Hideo Date, Miki Hayakawa, Mine Okubo, and others.
• Sugimoto’s other exhibitions during the 1930s included shows at the Oakland Art Gallery; a show entitled Four Japanese Artists of the Pacific Coast (with Masuta Narahara, Kenjiro Nomura, and Kamekichi Tokita) at the Legion of Honor in 1934; the Golden Gate International Exposition in 1939; and the inaugural exhibition of the San Francisco Museum of Art in 1935 (and many other exhibitions there between 1936 and 1950).
• With the beginning of World War II, Sugimoto and his family were interned from 1942 to 1945, first at the Fresno Assembly Center, then in Arkansas at the Jerome and Rohwer Relocation Centers. Initially painting in secret, Sugimoto would complete more than 100 paintings, along with numerous sketches, during his confinement. Depicting narrative scenes of internment as well as the events that preceded it, his pictures often included his wife, young daughter, and mother. Sugimoto also taught art in the camp high school and in adult night classes.
• After the war, in 1945 Sugimoto and his family relocated to New York City, where he created fabric patterns at a textile company and also continued to paint and exhibit. In 1947, an exhibition entitled The Japanese American Artists Group took place at the Riverside Museum, with Sugimoto, Isamu Noguchi, Koichi Nomiyama, Mine Okubo, and others.
• Sugimoto became a citizen in 1953, a year after the passage of the Walter-McCarran Act which made it possible for Japanese immigrants to apply for naturalization. In the 1960s and 1970s Sugimoto explored printmaking and reworked many of his internment paintings, creating a series of works depicting the Japanese immigrant experience. In 1981 he testified before the U.S. Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, showing several of his paintings.
• In 1972, Sugimoto’s work was prominently included in Months of Waiting, 1942-1945, a show of art from the internment camps held at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Los Angeles Music Center. His camp murals, Mess Hall and Protecting our Flag, formed the exhibition’s centerpiece.
• Henry Sugimoto passed away in New York City in 1990. Posthumous exhibitions included The View from Within at UCLA’s Wight Art Gallery in 1992. The Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles received a bequest of 142 of Sugimoto’s paintings, and the exhibition, Henry Sugimoto: Painting an American Experience, took place there in 2001.