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Casting Light on a New Life : The upbeat abstract paintings by Hideo Noda belie the dark days behind him. He says, 'When I paint, I forget about everything.'

July 08, 1994|NANCY KAPITANOFF | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

TOPANGA — Hideo Noda's art doesn't really tell his story.

The bright, colorful, cheery paintings of flowers and trees set against ocean and sky in his exhibit at New Canyon Gallery don't betray a hint of the turmoil of his early years. There's no sense of the two years he spent doing hard labor in a prisoner-of-war camp in Siberia after World War II. They don't reflect life in late-1940s Japan, when he went back to his home on an island near Hiroshima.

"As a POW, you're just like a slave," said Noda, 71.

In snow up to his knees, he was forced to build houses and work in the mines and on the railroad. "Everything in my life was so dark," he said.

In his art, as demonstrated in the exhibit "Hideo Noda: Abstract Japanese Paintings," he tries "to get another side, which is light. Most of it is imagination. You have to have imagination," he said.

Noda was born to Japanese parents in Phoenix, Ariz., in 1922. When he was 9 years old, his father died in a car accident. After that, Noda's mother moved with her six children to Japan.

In 1943, Noda was drafted into the Japanese army and sent to fight in China. Two years later, as the war was coming to an end, his unit was captured in Manchuria by the Russian army. After his release in 1947, Noda returned to his home near Hiroshima and began to paint, something he had enjoyed doing since he was a grammar school student. He remembers "only a concrete building here and there" on devastated Hiroshima, with nothing in-between, he said.

In 1951, Noda moved back to the United States, going to work as a "house boy" in San Francisco. He also took painting classes at San Francisco City College. In 1955, he moved to Los Angeles and got a job washing dishes at Lawry's Prime Rib restaurant. A year later he became a landscape gardener.

Noda, a Westside resident, still tends gardens four days a week. The other three days he paints.

"You get to his age and lose a little drive. He hasn't seemed to lose any drive," said Howard Craig, president of New Canyon Gallery and a member of the committee that juried Noda into the gallery cooperative and gave him the opportunity to do a show. "We liked his enthusiasm, his style, and we were really impressed by the fact that he had been painting for 50 years."

Although many artists who live in temperate climates enjoy painting outdoors, Noda takes that activity to unusual heights. He hauls his canvases and paint up onto the roof of his house by ladder and works there. The splashy, splattering painting techniques he uses in his works would mess up the studio, he said. "I don't have the space in the back yard. And I have a dog," he said. Besides, "the paintings dry much faster on the roof."

After finishing the abstract backgrounds of his compositions on the roof, he brings the canvases into his studio to paint the detail of the foregrounds. He works on five to 10 canvases at one time.

Noda has 500 paintings in storage, many of them done in styles significantly different from the 20 hanging in the gallery. One can get a sense of his diverse painting abilities from two books of color photographs of his work that accompany the show, the first public display of his work.

"I thought I was going to keep them all," he said. "They're like your children."

He decided to begin showing his paintings when a landscaping client bought one and encouraged him to share his work with others.

But it is not the potential for sales that motivates Noda to continue to paint. It is the sheer joy of doing it. "When I paint, I forget about everything," he said.

Where and When

What: "Hideo Noda: Abstract Japanese Paintings."

Location: New Canyon Gallery, 129 S. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Ends July 17.

Call: (310) 455-3923.

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