Day of Remembrance: Ben Sakugochi

19 Feb

I was in Los Angeles for the President’s Day weekend and was fortunate enough to catch the last day of Drawing the Line at the Japanese American National Museum, in Los Angeles, California. Drawing the Line was part of Pacific Standard Time – an unprecedented collaboration, initiated by the Getty, to bring together more than sixty cultural institutions from across Southern California for six months from October – April 2011 to tell the story of the birth of the L.A. art scene. Los Angeles, can be pretty cool that way. The exhibition was a selection of the dynamic and diverse Japanese American contributions to the visual landscape of L.A. in the period following World War II. 

Two of my favorite artists were Ben Sakugochi and Qris Yamashita.

Ben Sakugochi. Post Cards from Camp: White Man's Neighbourhood. 16

Ben Sakugochi. Post Cards from Camp: White Man’s Neighbourhood. 16″ x 11″. Acrylic on Canvas.

Ben Sakoguchi was born in 1938, in San Bernardino California.  During World War II, his family was incarcerated by the United States government because of their Japanese ancestry, so he spent his early childhood in an internment camp at Poston, Arizona.

After the war, the Sakoguchis returned to San Bernardino, and with considerable difficulty, reopened their small grocery business.

Ben Sakugochi. Post Cards from Camp: Building Our Grocery Store. 16

Ben Sakugochi. Post Cards from Camp: Building Our Grocery Store. 16″ x 11″. Acrylic on Canvas.

Ben Sakugochi. Post Cards from Camp: Pop and Me in Front of Grocery Store. 16

Ben Sakugochi. Post Cards from Camp: Pop and Me in Front of Grocery Store. 16″ x 11″. Acrylic on Canvas.

Sakoguchi earned a Bachelor of Arts degree, teaching credential, and Master of Fine Arts degree in 1964 from UCLA.

In four decades as a professional artist, Sakoguchi has shown his work in numerous solo and group exhibitions, and has been awarded two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships. In 1997, he participated in the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Artists at Giverny Program.  More recently, he was among the recipients of Flintridge Foundation Awards for Visual Artists for 2005-2006.

[More on Ben Sakugochi at http://www.bensakoguchi.com%5D

I was particularly taken in by his Orange Crate Label series. From the 1880’s to the 1950’s, California oranges were sent to market packed in wooden crates with big, multi-colored labels pasted on the ends, which were among Ben Sakoguchi’s early influences. He was attracted to their bold graphics and fanciful images, and started using it in a series of small paintings. Just as the actual labels had depicted a wide variety of subjects—Sakoguchi’s paintings sampled events, issues and attitudes of modern culture.  He produced several hundred orange crate label paintings (1974 – 1981) before moving on to other projects.

[Abridged from Ben Sakoguchi’s description]

Ben Sakoguchi. Orange Crate Label Series: Noo Q Ler Brand. 1995. Acrylic on Canvas. 10

Ben Sakoguchi. Orange Crate Label Series: Noo Q Ler Brand. 1995. Acrylic on Canvas. 10″ x 11″.

Ben Sakoguchi. Orange Crate Label Series: Chien de Guerre Brand. 2001. Acrylic on Canvas. 10

Ben Sakoguchi. Orange Crate Label Series: Chien de Guerre Brand. 2001. Acrylic on Canvas. 10″ x 11″.

Ben Sakoguchi. Orange Crate Label Series: K9 MIA Brand. 2001. Acrylic on Canvas. 10

Ben Sakoguchi. Orange Crate Label Series: K9 MIA Brand. 2001. Acrylic on Canvas. 10″ x 11″.

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