JACCC will host the exhibition “Keisho Okayama: Selected Works,” featuring the paintings, drawings, and masks of Keisho Okayama, active in Los Angeles starting in the 1960s. Okayama’s work bridged the worlds of abstraction and figurative observation. With a highly personal color palette and sense of space, he emphasized the spiritual and subconscious. A certain sense of color and space was consistent in all of Okayama’s work. His later works distilled and concentrated this, creating a kind of mystical light.
“My primary concern has always been to establish a condition of feeling with forms in space that felt to me to be true. The images must feel real to me.” — Keisho Okayama, 1991
Keisho Okayama was born April 23, 1934, in Fujiidera-shi, Osaka, Japan, the middle son of Reverend
Zenkai Okayama, a Jodo Shinshu Buddhist priest, and Tatsuko (Hattori) Okayama. In 1936, his father
brought the family to the United States to serve a congregation in Watsonville, California.
After the outbreak of war between the US and Japan, the Okayama family was first forcibly evacuated to
Tanforan Racetrack in San Bruno, then to Topaz War Relocation Center, an internment camp in central
Internment had a deep and enduring effect on Okayama that resonated throughout his life. Prejudice
against Japanese Americans remained strong for many years after the end of WWII. Because of this, he
felt alienated from the country of his birth, and experienced confusion and guilt about his sense of
obligation to its culture. His split identity as a Japanese American created enormous psychic stress. Art
was one way that Okayama dealt with these feelings.
Okayama studied art at UCLA, where he received a BA in Art in 1962, and took figure drawing classes at
Los Angeles City College. He met Lauren Fisher in 1967 when she modeled for an art class. At the time
she was an art student at UCLA and modeled for part-time income. They were married in 1969.
Between 1971-1995, Okayama was an adjunct professor at the College of Creative Studies at UCSB, East
Los Angeles Community College and UCLA. He was a sensitive and charismatic teacher who maintained
friendships with many former students.
For over 20 years, beginning in the early 1970s, Okayama was involved with the Senshin Buddhist
Temple Kinnara Gagaku group. He played the hichiriki (a double reed Japanese flute), crafted his own
instrument, and also designed and crafted cases for hichiriki, sho, and bugaku masks.
Okayama was prolific, painting and drawing throughout his life, producing work in pencil, sumi,
watercolor, charcoal, oil pastel, and acrylic paint. Around 1980, instead of using stretcher bars, he began
pinning the canvas to the wall. He preferred painting on canvas that was not framed and stretched
because he felt the material itself, and the way it draped on the wall, was an important element of the
overall feeling. A certain sense of color and space was consistent in all his work. His later works distilled
and concentrated this, creating a kind of mystical light.
He previously exhibited in JACCC’s George J. Doizaki gallery in 1982 with Hirokazu Kosaka, in 1987 with
Richard Yokomi, a solo exhibit in 1990 and a group exhibit with Nob Hadeishi, Mike Kanemitsu, and
Sawako Shintani in 2022.
Okayama passed away on April 4, 2018.
For further information, see Okayama's website: www.keishookayama.com