From Topaz to Soho: The Spirited Art of Koho Yamamoto

Artist’s Statement

FROM TOPAZ TO SOHO: THE SPIRITED ART OF KOHO YAMAMOTO shows the expression of a soul whose spirit could not be broken, a soul destined to soar from the desert of the Topaz Relocation Center in Utah to Soho, the fertile art center of New York City.

The artist demonstrates the style of sumi-e, or Japanese brush painting, with an emphasis on Notan – the art of achieving dark and light tones on white rice paper with a single brush stroke. The approach stresses space, balance and rich emotional expression.

Works exhibited here span the years of 1944 to the present. Although considered the artist’s smaller works, they convey great strength as they take the viewer on a historical journey. They show the progression of a young student painting the world as it presented itself behind the barbed wires of the detention camp… to a more expressive representation of her new surroundings in New York City… and ultimately reaching a dynamic level of higher spiritual awareness from which large abstract paintings emerge; a place from within, self-described as “nothingness.” Through perseverance and mastery of acquired skills, the artist finds true expression of self and lives freely.

“Keep your mind clear. To create something fresh and direct, you must work from
nothingness.” — Koho


KOHO YAMAMOTO is the daughter of a master calligrapher and poet. She was born in California as Masako Yamamoto in 1922. At a young age she was taken along with her siblings to live in Japan with relatives because her mother was seriously ill.
Her mother passed away soon after the birth of her younger brother. At the age of 9 her family reunited with their father in the United States. With the outbreak of World War II she and her family were relocated to Topaz Detention Center in Utah in 1942. There she met and became a student of renowned artist and Professor Emeritus of Art from the University of California Chiura Obata. Excelling in his sumi-e classes, she was given a part of Prof. Obata’s art name, “A Thousand Harbors,” as a symbol of spiritual succession to teach the art of Japanese brush painting. Koho translates to “Red Harbor.”

After the war Ms. Yamamoto came to New York City and studied oil painting at the Art Students League, where she was awarded the Allen Tucker Scholarship. She joined Gallery 84, one of the original 10th Street Cooperative Art Galleries, and presented a solo show of her paintings which an Art News critic described as “fantastic dark
landscapes.” The world-renowned sculptor, the late Isamu Noguchi wrote in a letter to Koho, “I find your paintings to be exceptionally beautiful.”

Koho has participated in numerous group and solo exhibitions in New York City and around the world. She was prominently featured in “Windows on the East,” sponsored by Japan Society in 1978 and held at the World Trade Center. She has been an adjunct lecturer and held classes at many universities including Columbia University, New York University and Parsons School of Design. She has taught at the Educational Alliance Art School, Japanese American Society of New Jersey, Nippon Museum and the New York Open Center.

Also to her credit, she has been commissioned by publishers, advertising agencies and television companies for her distinctive style and skills in Sumi-e and calligraphy. Founder and sole instructor of the Koho School of Sumi-e for over 37 years until its closing in 2010, she has most recently been featured in the New York Times article, “An Endangered Japanese Art Form Loses Its Outpost in Soho” and on NY City Room Blog, “Reflections on a Stilled Paintbrush.”

At nearly 90 years young, Ms. Yamamoto is still an active artist and inspiration to her many devoted students, collectors and viewers.

This exhibit would not have been possible
without the help of the following people who volunteered
their time with remarkable generosity and heart.

Elizabeth Brown
Linda Mulhauser
Paul Mulhauser
Sandra Sinclair
Amy Troyansky

Paula M. Mayo: President & Executive Director

Frank DeGregorie, Curator

475 Riverside Drive, New York, NY 10115

To inquire about them, please call 212 . 870 . 3271

Frank DeGregorie