First published: Spring 2011
Masao Obata (1943–2010), whose works were shown in the recesses of the gallery at Halle Saint Pierre, Paris, last year and who was allocated the first wall that confronted visitors at the Collection de l’Art Brut show in 2008, was one of the most notable artists in recent Japanese Art Brut.
He appeared in the world of outsider art suddenly, at the end of the 20th century, and, after receiving wide attention for about 10 years, he was lost at the peak of his fame through his sudden death.
Obata’s work was first shown at a public museum in November 1998 as part of a group show of Japanese outsider artists held at the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Modern Art. Although it was shortly before the deadline for finalising the artists in the show, I was able to slip him into the line-up and 70 of his pieces were included.
He has frequently appeared in Japanese museums since then, and has become one of the most important and popular figures in the outsider art world in Japan. But despite his fame, little is known about him. We do not even know exactly when he first started to draw.
We do know that he began drawing some time after he settled in Hifumi-en, a care house for the mentally disabled in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture, in 1989. He once lived in Sanraku-en, a care house in Tsuyama, Okayama Prefecture, which is bordered on the east by Hyogo, and worked in the poultry and textile industry. We can find no evidence that he drew in that time and, according to the records in Sanraku-en, he spent most of his free time sitting still in the corner of the room.