Love Letter to Kenjiro Nomura

A vertical painting of an unbusied city street in the 1930s, the leaves on the trees freshly sprouted and the sky, cloudy and blue.
Kenjiro Nomura, Yesler Way, 1934. Courtesy of the Central Washington University, Public Works of Art Project.

Yesler way and 3rd Ave, but in another life. The light of the 1930’s: Seattle, when everything was brick and globular street lamps, a doorway to the Pacific. Kenjiro Nomura: the same Puget Sound reigns salty over his views and mine, the same coniferous rainforest is at the edges of those farms he painted. I still see their reds, grays, and shadowed greens. The Depression was underway, and he and his friends made art in this city, just as we do.

But then, to be taken away, to move on again from home—a prisoner. A snowy Puyallup fairground, the same I saw as a kid. He pictured it into desolation, painting signs and letting the world know how and what it was. Japanese Internment: what a funny way to say that nothing of before would survive. 

And then, to go on? Not through painting, no. Too much of that had already been said and done. His wife, haunted by the camp, by illness and this brave-new, post-war world: how then to go on after she had left, after she had died? A whole year went by without a brushstroke. 

Then Horiuchi, another friend, and a way to show things as they were. Now in the abstract, painting that same farm with her gone, showing those colors and those muted shapes as they came between barbed wire and Union street, between First Hill and the fairgrounds. Scrambled signage, swooping cursive lines: looking inward, from Seattle to Gifu and back again—a little life. 

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