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Okubo, Benji [ bio ]

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H: 16 in, W: 20 in

California, 1942-1945


Gift of Chisato Okubo


Stretched and unframed.

Image of a mother and child running away from flames and smoke. Their entire bodies are depicted. The woman is wearing a dark gray dress with an apron and the dress is torn away at her proper left shoulder, exposing her left breast. The daughter is wearing a bright green pinafore with a white undershirt. Both the mother and daughter have long streaming hair. The mother's hair is light brown and her daughter's is golden. They are fleeing flames depicted in the near background. The mother and daughter are positioned slightly left of the center of the canvas and are balanced by the flames on the right side of the canvas. The painting is comprised of a combination of muted and bright colors. The smoke-filled sky is gray, lilac, soft blue and tan, and the mother's dress is a darker shade of the gray of the sky. The vivid colors are in the flames -- salmon, pink, orange and yellow. Also brightly colored is the emerald green of the daughter's dress and woman's shoes. Because the background is so muted, a startling contrast to the bright and warm flames. The brush strokes are loose and painterly.

Although the artist shows modeling in the clothing and limbs, he does not apply any fine details to the facial features. Through the mother's and daughter's faces are painted loosely, their facial expressions are rendered clearly enough to register terror. The dynamic quality of this painting is also reflected in the diagonal thrust of the characters leaning toward the left, counterbalanced by the flames which sway to the right. The mother's and daughter's hair fanning out behind their shoulders are paralleled by the flames, fanning out behind them. The painting shows the primal fear of a mother and daughter fleeing fire. It is obvious from details such as the woman's disheveled state and the daughter's barefootedness that they only had enough time to save themselves. It is unknown exactly when and why the artist chose to paint this particular image. It may reflect an actual event, a comment on war, a reaction to the politics of the era or the artist's state of mind. In any case, it dramatically shows a very human response reacting to known (and unknown) terrors. The subject and composition is similar to Picasso's lighthearted "Deux Femmes Courant Sur La Plage" (Two Women Running on the Beach), but the mood envoked by Okubo's painting is dark and frightening.

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