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Masao Obata

Masao Obata

Masao Obata (b.1943) only started drawing in his residential care facility (Hyogo Prefecture) in Japan after the age of sixty. His strong urge to create led him to source pieces of large cardboard to draw on from the kitchens in his facility, as the paper was not big enough for him.

Full Biography

Masao Obata (b.1943) only started drawing in his residential care facility in Japan after the age of 60. Raised by his grandmother, Obata moved around many institutions before settling at Hyogo Prefecture for a longer period of time. His strong urge to create led him to source pieces of large cardboard to draw on from the kitchens in his facility, as paper was not strong enough for him and he was concerned it would rip easily. In the facility Obata could be found night after night continuously drawing often on both sides of the cardboard, at the rate of around one work per night. He produced thousands of drawings before his passing in 2010, but many were disposed of by the facility who, in the beginning, had not recognised the artistic value of his work.

Often creating in red pencil, Obata stated that for him this was the colour of happiness and fulfillment. The major themes in Obata’s work include family and marriage, both of which eluded Obata during his lifetime. He did on occasions say that the works featuring a man, a woman and a child were he and his parents, and that he missed them profusely. Women were often depicted wearing earrings and necklaces, whilst men were known to be featured wearing ties. His drawings also featured a characteristic attention to detail when depicting genitalia in his representations of humans. Other themes included things Obata had seen like vehicles, landscapes and plants.

(Text written with help from Mizue Kobayashi)

Exhibition Highlights

2018 Outsider Art Fair New York, Metropolitan Pavilion
2017 Masao Obata: Drawing Happiness in Red, Presented by Jennifer Lauren Gallery, Pop-up exhibition, London
2017 Art Brut in Thailand and Japan, Chulalongkorn University Museum, Bangkok
2014 Intuitive Folk, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester
2013 Souzou: Outsider Art from Japan, Wellcome Collection, London
2012 Outsider Art from Japan, Het Dolhuys National Museum of Psychiatry, the Netherlands
2010 Art Brut Japonais, Halle Saint Pierre, Paris
2008 Japon, Collection de l’Art Brut, Lausanne