Usui was a Nagano Japan born American frame maker based in Greenwich Village New York City during the first half of the 20th century. He crafted frames for other artists mostly, copying older European styles using more modern materials. He claimed he’d jumped off a Japanese ship and literally swam to shore to get to America, and it was probably true. Living in New York made it easier for his friends to keep him from being interned during World War 2, though they had to hide his collection of Japanese swords until after the war. But as far as art goes, he spent far more time on his successful business selling frames to his fellow artists than in pursuing his own painting from what we can tell… there are few works of his out there.
And that’s too bad, since he was a great painter.
This one in particular shows his amazing talents. I picked it for it’s Labor Day theme. A busy factory filled with both men and boys, all in motion and busy busy busy. The curvy shapes of his bodies and the use of color and light reflection off of clothes and objects reminds me a lot of the work of Thomas Hart Benton, one of Usui’s contemporaries. There’s wonderful depth to this work, with multiple vanishing points and component actions – machines, design, executives meeting, hand labor – going every which way, evoking a busy confusing factory in action, where somehow all the chaos on the surface melds together into a large humming productive workforce. After all, it’s still 1925 and not the depression, so people are still buying furniture.
One of his best friends was the far-more prolific arists Yasuo Kuniyoshi. One of Usui’s other works is a nice portrait of Kuniyoshi, evoking a similar pose/body style to Benton but this time incorporating more impressionistic fuzzy brush strokes, especially for the background. He comes up with something somewhere in between Renoir and Van Gogh.
I like this one, too, “14th Street, 1924” a pastel-like factory street view. Maybe it’s the outside of the furniture factory.
A little Benton, a little Ashcan school. I’m guessing Usui got influenced by the works of any of the artists he crafted frames for.
So happy Labor Day Weekend. I’ll be watching a lot of college football, myself.