Barbara Johns s not just the author of a biography of Paul Horiuchi’s life but also the curator of an accompanying retrospective exhibition at the Museum of the Northwest in La Conner Washington.
Barbara is the former curator of the Tacoma Art Museum and Director of the Pilchuk Glass School in Arlington, Washington. I did take time to talk with her during this show and was impressed with both her hard work and dignity towards Paul’s oeuvre.
Paul Horiuchi (1906-1999), born “Chikamasa Horiuchi” in Ooishi village, now Kawaguchiko town in Yamanashi Prefecture, on April 12, 1906, near Mt. Fuji. Paul came to America (age fourteen) with his parents and older brother Toshimasa and settled in Wyoming. But the family had strong ties to the Seattle area via an Uncle and large Japanese community that is still here. His wife Paulette, a Nikkei (Japanese decent born here) and family are also from the Seattle area.
He first started to work for the Union Pacific Railroad out of Kanda Wyoming in the 1920’s and only painted on the side. World War II brought hard times and Paul lost his job because of his race. Moved to Ogden Utah during the War so he did not have to go to a Japanese interment camp. He took up body and fender work to make ends meet and support his family. Even this was not much and after the War moved to Seattle. An accident at the Body shop left him unable to work and he took up Art full time while his wife supported the family as a Bank teller.
Paul had always been a Japanese who painted in an American way. He had many Artist friends from his culture; Nomura, John Matsudaira, and George Tsutakawa. But it was an American Artist, Mark Tobey, who thought Paul should look into his Japanese past for his strengths. This prompted Paul to return to Japan after many years of absence to visit his family and study Japanese Art.
The Northwest School looks to Asian values of wholeness, naturalism, and the Buddhist principle of Zen. Paul’s work looks to peace, stillness and wholeness, not to man as the center of nature but just as a part of a greater wholeness. Paul developed the technique of collage by mixing torn paper with glue and dyeing each piece with natural colors. The retrospective includes every part of his life. From early oil paintings of himself and his wife from the 1930’s, watercolors of his times in Wyoming, to sculptures made in his autobody shop. But the shows centerpiece is the torn paper collage. Barbara Johns like a wise general leaves the best at the heart. (See illustration Fig 71. Monolithic Impasse. 1964, Collage mounted on canvas, 77.5 X 79.6) It is his swan song, a return to the start, a circle complete.
There are 27 pieces of collage, which dominate the center of the museum, each one simple yet complete. He must have worked very hard collecting materials because the quality of the paper is elegant. The execution is perfect as are the painted elements. The wider world would never have recognized Paul’s work without the collages and now can’t say enough. Like dried leaves these collages dance around a natural setting. Colors of the earth, torn as if gravity had assembled them, each work perfect with a simple beauty. Yet so many works of this type look like wrapping paper but not these collages. They remind me of Franz Kline’s works, powerful, full of energy, full of awe.
Ms. Johns does an excellent job of telling you who Paul was, and how wonderful the work is, in both the book and exhibition. The show runs from March15 through June. The Book can be purchased at the Museum of the Northwest Book Store or University of Washington Press, Seattle.