Though folks in these parts might not have heard of Yasuhide Kobashi, the Japanese-born artist was a force on the New York art scene in the 1960s. Kobashi moved to the Big Apple in 1959, when America was hungry for things Japanese. Zen Buddhism was all the rage, and major Japanese art exhibits and films by famous directors such as Akira Kurosawa were met by eager U.S. audiences.
Kobashi himself was a product of both Eastern and Western influences. He came to America having studied ukiyo-e (woodblock printmaking) under innovative artist Unichi Hiratsuka, who shifted the medium to give full artistic control to one person. Traditional ukiyo-e included the work of various people – designer, carver, printer and publisher. Kobashi was also exposed to sculpture, stage design, stone cutting, ceramics, calligraphy, painting and even furniture design.
‘SELF-CONSTRUCTION: THE ART OF KOBASHI YASUHIDE’
» On exhibit: Through Feb. 20, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays
» Where: Honolulu Academy of Arts,
900 S. Beretania St.
» Admission: $10; $5 students, seniors and military; free to children 12 and under
» Call: 532-8700
His work in New York, however, revealed the influences of such Western artists as Joan Miro, Pablo Picasso and Paul Klee and art movements such as Cubism, Expressionism and Symbolism.
"He’s a Japanese artist who became an international artist. We can see how he was searching for his own style by incorporating his own ideas with the international art trends of the day," said Sawako Chang, curator of "Self-Construction: The Art of Kobashi Yasuhide," showing at the Honolulu Academy of Arts through Feb. 20. (The exhibit title reflects the Japanese custom of placing a person’s first name after the family name.)
The academy is showing the private collection of a friend of Kobashi’s who lives in Honolulu.
Though it’s hard to pin down Kobashi’s style, much of his work possesses a humorous, childlike quality, with lively colors and whimsical imagery. His sculptures, which the artist called "self-constructing," comprise movable objects that enable the artwork to evolve as the viewer interacts with it. This was Kobashi’s way of having his audiences become artists as well.
It was Kobashi’s sculptures that drew patron Nelson Rockefeller, who was governor of New York at the time. Rockefeller said a sculpture purchased for the governor’s mansion appealed to everyone from legislators to his son, according to material accompanying the exhibit.
"It lets you participate, and participating in life is a very important part of life’s enjoyment," he is reported to have said.
Under Rockefeller’s patronage, Kobashi created public sculptures. And though he continued traveling between Japan and New York after he took ill in the early 1980s, the artist spent a large part of his time in Japan, where he continued producing public works.
By the time of his death in 2003, Kobashi’s art had evolved to become abstract and symbolic multimedia compositions that combined his talents in painting, woodblock printing and sculpture.
"His style was that he was transforming all the time. There were no borders of nation, culture or style," Chang said. "I think that’s what made him so good."