In his own words
"Art can bridge the cultural gap and bring
people together under a shared humanity."
Art as a bridge...
I like a town that appears white from a distance, and I also like to see a window in the distance. They are both something beautiful to me. They remind me that behind every window in every town, there is life, family, and a worldly existence. I suppose that these things look beautiful as an entirety, too. Indeed, a human appears uniquely beautiful observed from high above, where small virtues and little sins are invisible.
While I rarely discuss it, my life's emotional and spiritual influences are deeply rooted in my childhood experience of the atomic bomb explosion in Nagasaki. Indeed, I am classified in the special category established for those who entered certain areas adjacent to the center of the explosion site within a specific time frame. We had entered the area two days after the explosion. Four of us, my father, two sisters and I went toward the center of the explosion, pulling a cart. We did not understand how dangerous the radiation was; we went there to find our relatives. My father and two sisters have since passed away at much younger ages than would be expected. We don't know if the radiation was the direct cause, but I am the sole survivor of the four who went to the site. All I saw was a world of death... people, animals, everything... dead. Extending from under a zinc board, I saw the palm of a baby's hand which should have been fair in color but was scorched black. In the midst of this world of death, a rescue squad gave me a big white rice ball to eat. It was a world apart from the immediate environment. It gave me hope. I am still in wonder about it, and often reflect on how a small and seemingly insignificant gesture or thing can bring hope and inspiration.
Mr. Tenshin Okakura was a spiritual leader of an art community in Japan during the Meiji period in the later 19th century. He wrote "A Book of Tea," which was very influential on me, it spoke clearly to my intellect and that of my colleagues, such that we made a copy of his book and used it as our "textbook". We had many discussions regarding it and Mr. Okakura's philosophies that were often used as our platform, indeed as our intellectual guide. These observations became to be known among us as "Teaisms", thoughts that inculcate purity and harmony, the mystery of mutual charity, the romanticism of the social order. It is essentially a worship of the Imperfect, as it is a tender attempt to accomplish something possible in this impossible thing we know as life.
As for my artistic intellect, I am reminded of a writer's comment during the Ming period that is true of all our artistic efforts; "All the threads can be seen but not the color coordination or the design itself."
December 3, 1935 - July 30, 2023
In the words of others
All who work with Hideo Sakata, Japanese or not, call him "Sakata-san", adding the Japanese term of respect. Friends and associates of his refer to him this way even when he's not present, acknowledging his accomplishments and his vision. I have always addressed him this way, from the first day I met him and helped organize his first one-man show in the United States. Even though he has become a dear friend, he will always be “Sakata-san.”
Why this honorific? Because for almost four decades I have witnessed Sakata-san’s tireless efforts to bring the world together using the catalyst of art to inspire new generations. I have been privileged to travel the globe with him, initiating and supervising projects in art education, appreciation, and exchange throughout Asia, Europe and the Americas, including a two year long international art event, “Art Beyond Borders”, under the aegis of the United Nations, (UNICEF). LELA (Lantern from the East Los Angeles) was created as the voice of this effort. All this was accomplished with little funding, a small army of volunteers, and incredible deadlines.
I have often wondered why Sakata-san has expended so much time, energy, and resources on this mission of unification through art. Then I realize, he is struggling to prevent the past from reoccurring. A native of Nagasaki, as a child Sakata-san lost members of his family and witnessed other results of a horrific horrors of World War II and has devoted his entire adult life to making sure such a thing never happens again. He fervently believes that art plays a crucial role in human history by bringing people and cultures together.
As an artist, musician, concert and event producer, gallerist, curator, and consultant working on both coasts and in my native Europe, I feel a kinship with creative individuals who work in the public realm as well as in their studios. The work of Hideo Sakata epitomizes this ideal. Sakata-san has put art in the service of peace and understanding throughout the world, through his personal efforts and through our organization, LELA.
Fonje de Vre - Los Angeles, CA
Artist / Curator / Executive Board Member LELA
THE ARTIST HIDEO
No one survives a holocaust unscathed. Even if the body comes through without a scratch, mind and spirit are forever changed. Such traumatic witness can cripple some, but it can liberate others, providing them with a sense of community, mission, even vision. The very foundations of human society, of human existence, after all, have been exposed as fragile, fleeting, and much less secure than they are supposed to be. When the disaster one lives through, moreover, is brought on -invented -by humans, life can seem not just small and absurd, but foolish and contrary. No wonder the Second World War, with its mass and calculated destructions, spawned the existentialist world view. And no wonder that Japanese art, bearing testimony until today to the terrible miracle of nuclear fission, has reflected so acutely the conundrum voiced by Samuel Beckett, "Can't go on; must go on."
Hideo Sakata couldn't go on, so he went on. At the age of nine, he saw the light - the "thousand suns” of the atomic bomb igniting over his native Nagasaki. Fate spared Sakata's life, and even his health, but put him forever after at the service of some higher purpose. The explosion recurs in his art as a warning and as a celebration; and human frailty and the finality of death - the grave profundities you would expect such a momentous event to aver so indisputably - are at once reaffirmed and subverted by the compositional formats and elements in which Sakata contextualizes that blast.
An orb or sliver of bright (or, on occasion, deep, haunting blue) light does not always appear in the dark, narrow band running vertically through Sakata's recent paintings; but whenever it does, it represents that bomb's bursting in-air. Even where there is no hovering glow, the impact resonates through the surrounding aether, shivering the otherwise placid planes of lightly colored, lightly textured space on either side of the band of darkness. At first glance, those planes had seemed to be compressing the band. At second glance, they had seemed to be parting to reveal a distant space, like doors slowly opening onto the nighttime sky. But when Sakata's real metaphor is understood, these blandly empty areas read as regions of metaphysical portent; the streak they surround, however nocturnal and eruptive, is in fact the realm of gross human experience, and that infernal concussion only a single event.
In fact, Sakata is wont to balance that event with other events within the slim pictorial confine. Other shadows flicker. Other, more benign loci of energy, even of hope, dawn beside, around, below, even instead of the bomb blast. That curious curve of light which appears sometimes towards the bottom of the strip, for instance, refers to nothing more, or less, significant than an individual's buttock. This manifestation of a human secondary sexual characteristic, conjuring pleasurable sensations, evoking love, and inferring the continuation of the species, not only contradicts but mocks the dire power of the bomb. At the same time its orbital form echoes that of the explosion (in Sakata's vocabulary, at least). The two things begin to mirror each other in the dialectic of sex and death, of procreation and annihilation. The ferocity of the blast can even be comprehended as the ferocity of passion on a macrocosmic scale. Indeed, atomic fission can itself be understood as a naturally occurring phenomenon "on a solar scale,” that is, as natural as are the urges of mammals.
Natural, perhaps, but barely controllable. The sexual urge (especially as it has manifested itself in the social realm) is a genie let out of the bottle eons ago. The power of the atom is a genie released in our own era. Does Sakata imply that the newer genie ought to be re-bottled - that nuclear power cannot serve humankind? Not really; but he does remind us of its volatility. And we are reminded thereby of sex's own resound, of its enduring impact on our lives (an impact which only increases, as phenomena such as the population explosion, the sexual revolution, and AIDS confirm). Sakata's paintings - and, in a lighter, more circumspect way, his much more painterly (and, with their strong flavor of Sumie, more obviously Japanese) drawings - at once laugh at and cringe before the two universes we know, the natural universe and the human universe. All Sakata's art assures us is that these two universes exist, somehow, each within each other.
Peter Frank - Los Angeles - January 1991
Peter Frank is Associate Editor of Fabric Magazine, Art Critic for the L.A. Weekly
Art Critic for the Huffington Post and Visiting Critic at California State University, Fullerton.