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Suzuki famed watercolors at this year's open studios

By Ian M. Stewart, Special to the Daily Planet
Saturday June 08, 2002



It would be an understatement to call Lewis Suzuki’s paintings of flowers, the San Francisco Bay, San Francisco’s Chinatown or the Manila slums known as Smokey Mountain watercolor meanderings.  

No. To get a greater sense of the 81-year-old artists work and to fully appreciate the vivid sensations he presents mainly through watercolors you have to let your mind wander over the multiple shades of color and let them draw you in. You have to let his watercolors move your mind from peace to anger with the stroke of a brush. Only then will you reach the core of Suzuki’s beautiful works. 

The public can see his work Saturday and Sunday at the ProArts East Bay Open Studios, in which artists from Berkeley and Oakland open their studios to the public. 

Suzuki, who was born in Los Angeles, studied art in Japan and at three schools in the United States including the Otis Institute of Los Angles, the Art Students League of New York and the College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. Museums at which his art and exhibitions have hung include the De Young Museum in San Francisco and the American Watercolor Society Annual Exhibition in New York. He has been at his current studio, which is attached to his home, since 1968. These days he concentrates on one painting at a time.  

Mixing gentle strokes reminiscent of Japanese calligraphy with vibrant hues, Suzuki transforms beautiful locales into extraordinary studies in human nature. For instance, his painting of a place in Manila called "Smokey Mountain" depicts throngs of people living in squalor and rummaging through a massive garbage heap. He and his wife, Mary, visited Smokey Mountain years ago. The painting shows both the horror and humanity of the people working to survive.  

Two other works that delve into the human condition are posters addressing the effects of the World War II bombing of Hiroshima. In one poaster an orange dove in the shape of an Origami cutout is framed by a tan outline. 

Superimposed over the dove is the quote "No more Hiroshimas/Repose Ye in Peace/For the Error Shall Never Be Repeated," which is from the inscription of the memorial tomb in Hiroshima. The second poster has the same quote, but at the bottom is the slogan "No More War" with the "O" replacing the peace symbol. These posters and the Smokey Mountain painting are his strongest political statements.  

Other painted locales include the "Seven Cranes," an ancient Guilin mountains of China that tower over the Li-Chang River. It’s a masterful work that evokes serenity. Other paintings not to be missed center around San Francisco’s Chinatown and the city in general. 

The works are for sale. Prices range from prints at $20, to lithographs for $200, to the original Smokey Mountain painting for $12,000, which took him 10 months to paint, he says.  

The studios will be open 11a.m. to 6 p.m. Suzuki’s studio is at 2240 Grant St., Berkeley. Call 510-849-1427 for details.