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"Become a dentist!" Harry Tsuchidana at JCC advises budding artists

by Shelly Awaya, News editor


Excited and supportive family members, longtime friends, and fellow artists were on hand at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i Sept. 24 for the opening reception of the solo exhibit, Harry Tsuchidana: Gemini, Monkey, Kumamoto Ken.


Tsuchidana explains that the three elements of the exhibit’s name express his personality perfectly. Gemini is his astrological sign; he was born in the year of the Monkey; and Kumamoto Ken is a prefecture in Japan known for its abundant beautiful landscapes, a source of inspiration for his work.

“ All three are quite playful,” Tsuchidana said with a laugh, “and also nobody else can have a title like that for their exhibition.”

Tsuchidana’s exhibition of more than 30 paintings spans a time period from 1955 to today, and except from some matted nude sketches and abstract prints, available for $200 each, his prices range from $600 to $24,000.

Since it has been more than 15 years since Tsuchidana had a solo exhibit, he was both anxious and elated.

“ This is the first interview I’ve had in a long time,” Tsuchidana said. “No one has asked me to do a solo show in so long. I can go on and on and brag about Pablo’s (Picasso) work, but it’s hard to talk about your own work.”

A full-time master artist (and part-time jokester), Tsuchidana began perfecting his craft at a very young age. “When I was seven, I had already started tracing comics,” he said. “From then on, I’ve been doing this.”

Tsuchidana trained at the Honolulu Academy of Arts and Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C. He lived in New York for a while, where he met fellow local artists Satoru Abe, Jerry Okimoto, Bob Ochikubo, Isami Doi, and Tadashi Sato.

“ I’m very proud of Harry,” Abe said at the opening reception. “He really deserves this (recognition).”

Tsuchidana’s artwork is primarily in the style of abstract expressionism (abstraction of form in order to evoke expression of emotion). This art form emphasizes a more personal way of exploring life’s experiences.

Tsuchidana’s earlier works were inspired by the efforts of Picasso, Monet, Van Gogh, and Matisse. These initial pieces mostly carried nature themes, as in his painting titled Earthworm, which uses a beautiful combination of grays and blues. His later works lean toward a geometric abstract theme, using only primary and a few secondary colors to create vibrant horizontal and vertical asymmetrical shapes and patterns. Tsuchidana said the transition in his art focused more on human situations.

Most of the artworks at the JCCH show are from Tsuchidana’s “Stage” series, which he has been working on since 1979.

Tsuchidana said his “Stage” paintings depict the “lefts, rights, ups, downs, and all the different angles life throws at you.”

Despite the imbalance of life’s problems, the shapes Tsuchidana paints are separated by lines that “divide” each experience, giving the paintings an amazingly balanced appearance. The weights of the colors and strokes all come together on the canvas to form a stable picture of the many events in ones life.

“ When I worked on one ‘Stage’ painting, I thought about one of my neighbor’s who led a really tough life,” Tsuchidana said. “That was my focus, and what you see is my interpretation of his trials.”

Tsuchidana also said he gets bored very easily, so he often works on multiple paintings at the same time. He also said there is no time limit for any piece of work he’s done. He believes desire and patience will get you through each piece.

“ It’ll come to you,” Tsuchidana said.

This same attitude is how he gets the distinctive names of his pieces. He calls them “afterthoughts.”

Truly a funny man at heart, Tsuchidana would often toss in a joke here and there as we went from painting to painting.

“ So, did you bring your wallet today?” Tsuchidana asked. As much as I wanted to buy one, the paintings I particularly liked, Harvest and Weeded Out, were not for sale.

A very friendly, charismatic man, Tsuchidana also asked “What’s your sign?” as we walked around the Historical Gallery where his art is being showcased.

“ Oh, Virgos are really smart…I can see that about you,” he said with a smile.

In addition to giving me a personal tour of his exhibit, he provided helpful tips, such as how to clean watercolor paintings with bread.

“ Any bread is good, but I use Love’s,” he said. “You just rub it over the painting, and it’ll look as good as new.”

One of his past paintings, Collective Landscape, a watercolor done in 1959, looked as if it had been painted yesterday. Tsuchidana attributes this pristine quality to his use of trusty ol’ Love’s white bread.

Once he finished giving me the tour, the final question Tsuchidana answered was advice to young artists just starting out in the profession. With a big smile and teasing look, he said: “Become a dentist instead!”

Tsuchidana’s exhibit will be at the JCCH Historical Gallery through Oct. 22. Call 945-7633 for more information.


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