Henry Fukuhara: Artist without limits

A prisoner of the Japanese internment camp in Manzanar during WWII, the late Santa Monica artist Henry Fukuhara would use this experience as inspiration for some of his most moving pieces of artwork later in his life, even after completely losing his eyesight. This last Thursday, an exhibit was held at Emeritus College in memory of the late Fukuhara, who passed away in January of 2010.

Al Setton, a close friend and colleague of Fukuhara, was able to contact Fukuhara's family in order to bring together a collection that they felt represented the man and artist that was Henry Fukuhara.

Once he retired after leaving New York and building a reputation as an artist over there, he came back to Santa Monica and became both a teacher and student at Emeritus College, where a close friend and one of his students said that, "he was the art department."

Throughout all of his life though, the most remarkable challenge that Fukuhara overcame, was continuing his passion of painting, even after he lost his sight due to glaucoma in both eyes.

One of the most powerful pieces in the gallery was a piece called "Winter in Manzanar," which Fukuhara painted completely blind, and while the piece is one of the more abstract of his collection, it speaks the most volumes.

Shelley Pearson, a friend of Fukuhara, said that it never mattered that he had lost his sight, because the "pictures were all there in his mind. All the stories that he wanted to tell were already there."

His sister Joyce said while looking around at her brother's collection that she thought it was great he was able to pursue his true passion after he retired. She said after attending OTIS College briefly, Fukuhara had to drop out during the depression in order to help to support the family, as he was the oldest of seven children.

The exhibit gave the audience not only a sense of his evolution as an artist, ranging from a traditional watercolor style to a more abstract style, due mostly to his lost eyesight, but it also let viewers into how Fukuhara saw the world, painting only landscapes, mostly of Santa Monica and Manzanar.

According to Pearson and Setton, he was a humble man, who didn't like to talk about himself; he was quiet but quick, always attentive to what was happening around him, and that this collection really captured the essence of Fukuhara as an artist and a person.

Pearson said that he inspired so many students to not just sit in a classroom and draw reproductions, but instead had them sit there, in the city, in the fields and "paint what they saw."

One of the greatest legacies that Fukuhara left behind was the Manzanar workshop that he started. Every year, groups of people meet at the internment campsite at Manzanar and paint.

Aided by friends such as Setton, the workshop is going into its 14th year with no plans of stopping.

Setton mentioned that Fukuhara once said, "when you paint you have the power to move mountains."

And that seemed to be a statement that really captured Fukuhara, a man who didn't let the limitations of life stop him from achieving his passion, and inspiring his students and friends to continue to grow as people and artists.

The exhibit will be running at Emeritus College until December 10.