The artist’s life – a tale of love and war


EL PASO — Watercolor paintings of wild horses, wild flowers and cacti in vibrant colors hang on artist Kenge Kobayashi’s walls, but the bucolic scenes tell little of a life that was interrupted by interment in a Japanese-American prison camp during World War II.

Kobayashi, who had his first solo art exhibition in March, at the International Museum of Art on Montana. He said the scenes he brings to life are from places he has visited.

“It was good, a lot of people came.” He said. He is now seeing what to do next. “Every year the Rio Bravo watercolor club I am in has a showing at the International Museum of Art. If I apply, I get to show three paintings,” he said.

Kobayashi, 85, was born in California and like many other artists he realized his talent as a child. “Instead of doing homework I was drawing, cars and people, drawing something.” His paintings, which take from 15 minutes to about three days to complete, have come a long way from simple drawings of cars and people.

A finished watercolor lays on Mr. Kobayashi's drawing table. (Priscilla Rey/

A finished watercolor dries on Mr. Kobayashi's drawing table. (Priscilla Rey/

During World War II, at the age of 13, Kobayashi was interned at Tule Lake Segregation Center a prison camp in the northern California town of Newell.

“We were all swept up from the west coast. Japanese and Japanese Americans were put in concentration camps. There I painted barracks and the scenery around. I just did a lot of painting in the camp” he said. “I don’t have them anymore, I lost track of them.” He said.

Kobayashi took art in high school and also went to an art college. “The more I grew up, the more I leaned toward art.” His studies landed him a job as an art director for television and print advertising agencies, where he won many awards. His favorite one he says was for a dog food commercial in Chicago.

He then met his present wife in 1950; he was at Fort Bliss doing his basic training, and unit training. “Once I got out of the army I went back to California and started school again. That’s when the Korean War broke out and since I was in the active reserve I got called back to Fort Bliss again and went to school there.” He then dated her again, but went back to Fort Lewis, WA. and that was the end of their relationship.

“Our parents were against us.” He said “She was Chinese and I was Japanese and at that time Japan and China were at war for a long, long time, they were mortal enemies. They hated each other. They told me if we ever get married, don’t ever come home.”

Years passed.  They married other persons and had children, but both of their spouses passed away. His present wife reconnected with him over the internet when he was in Oregon, and they got together again.

“We just married about three years ago. She didn’t want to leave El Paso so that’s why we are living here now.” He said.

Today, he teaches at the Art Center on Yandell St. and continues to paint, selling his paintings on his website at “I haven’t decided where to show my paintings, but I will.” He said. His paintings are 22″ x 15″, all unframed. For more information you may contact him at 915 598-2625.

One thought on “The artist’s life – a tale of love and war

  1. Great story. It took me back to my high school years near San Jose, California where many of my friends were Japanese. They were very strong on the wrestling teams usually among the best. It was always a challenge to wrestle them. About his artistic talent, Mr. Kobayashi was true to his calling and we are all enriched by his art.

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