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Ben Kamihira

 (1925 - 2004)
Ben Kamihira was active/lived in Pennsylvania / Spain.  Ben Kamihira is known for nude figure, landscape, still life, and portrait painting, lithographs, teaching.

Ben Kamihira

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for Ben Kamihira
Following is the obituary of the artist, submitted by M.D. Silverbrooke, from the Philadelphia Inquirer, February 29, 2004.

Ben Kamihira, 78, Painter, Art Teacher
Ben Kamihira, 78, critically acclaimed figurative painter and longtime teacher at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, died of cancer Wednesday at home in Northern Liberties.
Mr. Kamihira's paintings, which hang in major museums throughout the world, reflect poetic fantasy and joyless moods.

The son of Japanese immigrants, Mr. Kamihira was born on a farm in Yakima, Wash. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, his family was sent to a relocation camp and later to eastern Oregon to pick sugar beets. From 1944 to 1946, he served in the Army's Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team in Italy.

While overseas, his wife Elizabeth Hetherington Spencer Kamihira said, "he was able, for the first time in his life, to go to a museum and receive drawing instruction."

Using the G.I. Bill, he studied at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh from 1946 to 1948 and at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts from 1948 to 1952.

Shortly after graduating from the Pennsylvania Academy, he returned as a faculty member. He stayed until retiring in 1980. There, his wife said, "Ben felt he had found a home."

Early in his career, Mr. Kamihira, a superb draftsman, painted a series of still lifes and Philadelphia landscapes. In 1956, he went to Spain on his second Guggenheim Fellowship and painted religious subjects such as the powerful Lowering from the Cross, which won the Lippincott Award at the Pennsylvania Academy.

He then began painting huge oils, working alone in his Center City studio. The works combined in a single canvas the qualities of still lifes, landscapes and portraits, many of them nudes.

One of his paintings from that period depicts three nude women on a terrace overlooking a bay with mountains in the distance. One woman sits at a table staring vacantly into space; the other two, younger and provocative, observe the landscape in a pervasive gloom.

After retiring from the Pennsylvania Academy, he lived in Spain and in Center City.

Although his paintings sold for thousands of dollars, Mr. Kamihira was shy of success. He made art for himself.

In a 1979 Inquirer interview, Mr. Kamihira said: "I have painted so many masterpieces in my sleep. But I haven't been able to, awake. All I can remember is the feeling, not the details. That's what keeps me going, trying . . . to paint a masterpiece . . . I'm painting my fantasies."

Later in life, Mr. Kamihira dug out ruined lithographs that were stored in his basement and extensively painted over them with watercolor, transforming the original image into distinctive variations.

Ten years ago, he was found to have lung cancer. When the cancer returned in 2003, it became difficult for him to stand before the huge canvasses and paint. His wife said: "When he became too sick to paint, his life was not worth living."

His works are in permanent collections at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York, the Brooklyn Museum, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Pennsylvania Academy, and the Woodmere Art Museum.

Mr. Kamihira married Elizabeth Hetherington Spencer in 1952.

They had seven children before divorcing in 1972.

In the mid-1970s, he married Rosita Sun and had a daughter before the marriage ended in 1989.

In January, he remarried Elizabeth.

In addition to Elizabeth Kamihira and Sun, he is survived by daughters Anita Shemesh, Miyo, Tomi, Kimi and Rhonda; sons Daniel White-Kamihira, Eben and Owen; eight grandchildren; and two sisters. His son Paul died in 2001.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. April 8 at the Pennsylvania Academy.
Memorial donations may be sent to the Ben Kamihira Memorial Fund, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 118 N. Broad St., Philadelphia 19101.

By Gayle Ronan Sims, The Inquirer and
Posted: February 29, 2004

Biography from Butler Institute of American Art
For an art school whose alumni include the likes of Thomas Eakins, Cecilia Beaux, Alice Neel, and more recently, Bo Bartlett, identifying one former student to single out for recognition is daunting to say the least. But the Pennsylvania Academy Alumni Association, of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, met the challenge, and this year presented Ben Kamihira with the first Distinguished Alumni Award at the academy's graduation.

About Kamihira's selection, James Lynes, an association board member, says, "Simply, he established himself as one of the leading figurative artists of this region. We wanted someone of reputation and accomplishment, and also someone who influenced generations to come." In addition to attending the Academy, Ben Kamihira later served on its faculty, and Lynes points out, "Many, many students came to the Academy to study with him."

Kamihira arrived at the Academy in 1948. He earned a traveling scholarship in 1951, allowing him to study in France and Italy, then earned another scholarship and went to Mexico. He has since received a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, the Hallgarten Prize from the National Academy of Design, and the Pennsylvania Academy's Lippincott Prize. His work is in the collection of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, and of course, his alma mater, to name a few.

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About  Ben Kamihira

Born:  1925 - Yakima, Washington
Died:   2004 - Northern Liberties, Pennsylvania
Known for:  nude figure, landscape, still life, and portrait painting, lithographs, teaching