This enigmatic watercolor is organized around the small figurine at left, probably a mythical Japanese fox-spirit called kitsune. Their intelligence and shape-shifting ability renders them an ambiguous omen: perhaps as shapeshifting tricksters, perhaps as spirit messengers. They could have as many as nine tails—suggested here by an additional eight curling cacti—at which time their fur turned white. This would be a very old, wise, and powerful kitsune. Two lotus blossoms in the dish, symbols of purity, render this compact still life to be of profound spiritual importance, and we see waves of fabric rippling around the moment.
About the Artist: Born Tokorogo, Japan, Kadowaki immigrated to Seattle, WA in 1909, giving as his profession a tailor for the famous Mitsukoshi department store in Tokyo. He appears to have lived in California shortly after arrival. As of 1917, he was a waiter at an Oyster Bay, NY restaurant; in 1920 he was butler to the son of a US Vice President in Wayne, NJ; in 1930 he was servant to a Murray Hill attorney; in 1940 he was a cook. These occupations all were considered "appropriate" for Japanese immigrants, and yet Kadowaki persisted in his pursuit of art. While in California he took classes at the Los Angeles School of Art and Design, exhibiting there in 1910; while in New York, he took classes at the Art Students League and exhibited at the ACA Gallery and Salons of America. In 1926 he designed a whimsical cockatoo light made of celluloid. After the Japanese attack upon Pearl Harbor, he was one of seven (along with NDG artist Thomas Nagai) to sign and publish a “Declaration of Japanese-American Artists”: “Let us express here and now our tremendous anxiety for national defense of America; our determination to support it to our utmost as artists and men, and further, to bear arms if necessary to ensure the final victory for the Democratic forces of the world. Whether a Fascist calls himself German, Italian, or Japanese, he is part and parcel of the same plot against all mankind.” Kadowaki became a US citizen in 1953.
Source Consulted: Ruth L. Benjamin, “Japanese Painters in America” Parnassus 7.5 (October 1935): 13–15. For helpful suggestions, sincere thanks to Mai Sato.
Cooper, Ken (biography)