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Out of the Confluence Of Race, Culture, And Ethnic Heritage Artistic Masterpieces Emerge

While recently visiting my father’s art studio and viewing the vibrant cascades of colors in his larger than life paintings, I felt as if I had somehow returned home, and appreciated a true sense of belonging in a way I never imagined possible.

With time, I had forgotten the once familiar aromas of both fresh and overly used oil paints; the splatters and smudges of India ink on his studio floors, and the overpowering sight of rafters filled with art that dated back to the late 1950s when he spent his youth as a romantic starving artist in Kyoko, Japan.

My father, Les Biller as a young artist

My father is Russian Jewish and grew up in Los Angeles, and attended college in Hawaii where he met and married my mother, who is a second generation Japanese American, and a Buddhist.

A man greatly influenced and inspired by Japanese culture, art, cinema, and literature, my father, along with my mother’s love of exotic creations as a multicultural union that resulted in masterpieces both visually and spiritually overpowering, which remain today.

A recent painting my father showed me illustrated as a perfect example of how their combined undying passion for vivid colors and textures continues to infuse both the home and creative fronts of their lives. This particular work had spirited, intense color and movement that covered every space of a six by eight foot canvas; seducing any viewer to want to sit down for more than just a little while just to soak in its breadth, scope, and emotional vitality.

My mother, Sumiko and my father at one of his art openings in the 1960's.

The unabated signature of my parent’s unusual mixture of Russian and Japanese cultures remains best symbolized in my father’s art, which portrays both divergent and yet harmoniously joined ethnic themes, and while still juxtaposition is always entwined in a seemingly effortless way.

In this particular painting, one’s eye immediately becomes focused on a velvet yellow couch with an antique silk kimono, displaying the deepest purples and reds, alongside a lime green iridescent glass vase, with a somber and dark background of a muddled brown sky. This same kimono, draped in different location during my childhood and throughout my house, has been in constant motion, moving from one room to another, from one light or dark season to another. It belonged to my Japanese grandmother, a first generation American.

As a young child, my father used to ask me specific opinions about his paintings and work. At the mere age of two, a typical question might have been, “Do you think I should add more cadmium red or green ochre in the foreground of this painting?”

I spent much of my youth playing and learning in his studio. Picking up a paintbrush or two, and mixing my own version of what I thought may be the perfect cobalt blue, he often let me add my own halcyon images to his paintings; a small figure here, a shadow somewhere else; I was not only his daughter, but also his student, his apprentice, and his artistic confidant.

All educational values aside, I most value the experiences and memories of the serene downtimes when we often just sat on that old antique velvet couch, and said absolutely nothing at all while looking at a painting or two.

He would say, “Don’t talk, just look. The longer you look and the more you look; the more you see, the more you will just see.”

Because of my father, I do see, and most importantly, I am able to see what is truely vibrant, valuable, and beautiful about the world. All photos of Les Biller’s paintings are courtesy of Francesca Biller. To view more of Les Biller’s artwork, visit his website at

Me in front of one of father's paintings at an art opening.

*This article was originally published on on September 24, 2010.

© 2010 Francesca Yukari Biller

artists arts graphic arts Japan Jews Les Biller painting Russians
About the Author

Francesca Biller is an award winning investigative journalist, political satirist, author, and social commentator for print, radio, and television. With a background of Japanese and Jewish, she writes about her interesting background in both an introspective and humorous way and her work has been been published for The Huffington Post, CNN, The Los Angeles Times, The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, and many other publications. Awards include The Edward R. Murrow award, two Golden Mike awards, and four Society of Professional Journalists awards for Excellence in Journalism. Biller is currently writing three books, the first a novel about the 442nd Infantry set in Hawaii, the second a compilation of humorous essays about growing up as a Japanese Jew in Los Angeles during the 1970s, and the third a Lifestyle book about how a diet of Hawaiian, Japanese, and Jewish food keeps her family healthy and happy. She is also currently on a national radio tour discussing her humorous take on politics, pop culture, and families.

Updated June 2012

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