b. 1935 Kalopa, HI – d. 2013 Berkeley, CA
George Miyasaki (1935 Kalopa, HI – 2013 Berkeley, CA) was a painter and printmaker active in the San Francisco Bay Area arts scene during the mid-to-late twentieth century. Although primarily known for his adeptly and lushly colored Abstract Expressionist work, Miyasaki’s contributions to the movement were largely ignored during his lifetime due to his race. Until recently, many critics, including Clement Greenberg, denied the aesthetic and philosophic influence of East Asian calligraphy and Zen Buddhism on Abstract Expressionism, instead depicting it as the product of exclusively Western traditions.
Miyasaki gained acclaim as a brilliant colorist in the late 1950s and early 60s for his Abstract Expressionist paintings and prints. Unlike his counterparts of the New York School, Miyasaki was concerned with the spontaneity and randomness of natural creation rather than expressing his own inner psychology. He often drew inspiration from the local landscape, referring to California and the American West in his titles. In the mid-1960s, Miyasaki departed from gestural abstraction and experimented with Pop Art collages before pursuing systematized studies of color and hard-edged shapes in the 1970s, developing his own abstract language that reduced complex organic forms into simple geometric ones. In 1967, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art held Arts of San Francisco: George Miyasaki, a solo exhibition of his work. In 1980, he participated in the 14th International Biennial for Graphic Art in Ljubljana, Yugoslavia.
His paintings from the 1980s and 1990s incorporated letters, numbers, checkered patterns, calligraphic brushstrokes and thickly built-up surfaces. He continued to explore this materiality in his late work through the 2000s, combining both expressionistic and hard-edge abstraction with cut-out shapes layered onto the canvas. “I deal with things like hard and soft, whether they’re organic or synthetic,” Miyasaki once explained. “I don’t see things in subjects. A yin-yang kind of thing, I guess, that’s the easiest way I can describe what I do. I try to use opposites to balance one thing with another.”
Born in Hawaii to Japanese parents, Miyasaki grew up in a rural area surrounded by sugar plantations and lived under martial law during World War II. Encouraged by his high school art instructor, he moved to Oakland in the 1950s to study with Nathan Oliveira and Richard Diebenkorn at the California College of Arts & Crafts. He received a BFA in 1957 and an MFA in 1958 before joining the faculty through 1964. He quickly became a key figure in the Bay Area arts community, lecturing at Stanford University and collaborating with Oliveira on two lithographs for Willem de Kooning. In 1964, he became a professor of art practice at the University of California, Berkeley and taught until his retirement in 1994.
In 2017, Miyasaki was included in Abstract Expressionism: Looking East from the Far West curated by Theresa Papanikolas at the Honolulu Museum of Art, an exhibition which sought to re-examine the profound influence of Asian art on Abstract Expressionism. In 2019, he was included in Photo Revolution: Andy Warhol to Cindy Sherman at The Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts.
Miyasaki has been featured in over thirty solo and three hundred group exhibitions, and he has received numerous prestigious awards such as the Henry Ward Ranger Purchase Award (2001), National Academy of Design (1993, 1995), Brooklyn Museum Purchase Award (1958, 2001), National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship (1985, 1980), and Guggenheim Fellowship (1963).
His work is held in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, IL; the British Museum, London; the Brooklyn Museum, NY; Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University, NY; Honolulu Academy of Arts, HI; University of Texas, Austin, TX; Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; National Academy of Design, NY; National Gallery, Washington, D.C.; Oakland Museum of California, CA; Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA; Portland Art Museum, ME; San Diego Museum, CA; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN; Whitney Museum of American Art, NY; and the Worcester Art Museum, MA.