Sachio Yamashita could not have created more of a stir in the southeastern Wisconsin college town of Whitewater (pop. 12,038) if he had kamikazeed the courthouse. Since he first showed up last October, he has covered three sides of a Victorian building with a multicolored painting called Sunrise, organized three dozen teenagers to emblazon the Franklin Junior High School with his representation of Indian burial mounds and donated a controversial 12 x 64-foot abstract mural called Balance of Power to the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Turned down by the director of the Student Union for being too overtly sexual, Balance of Power now graces the courtyard of the arts building.
The end of the paint-in which Sachio launched is not yet in sight. (His name, which he prefers over Yamashita, means “Happy Boy” in Japanese.) With whatever supplies are left over from one huge mural, Sachio starts the next, aided by youthful volunteers. “Artist must save energy,” Sachio observes sagely, “because helpers never like to do cleanup.”
In an attempt to spruce up what one professor termed “the ugliest campus on earth,” members of the university art department invited the 41-year-old Japanese to become artist and cosmetic muralist in residence. In addition to several small grants for supplies, the university threw in a free dormitory room, free student meal ticket and, to Sachio’s delight, use of the ground-keeper’s cherry picker. It’s just the thing to get at those hard-to-reach places on the sides of buildings.
Whitewater is an unlikely town for Sachio to visit, let alone remake. As a boy during World War II, he attended school in a bomb shelter while B-29s roared overhead. “I spoiled,” Yamashita says in his sometimes indecipherable English. “I write on walls. So father get me a blackboard and chalk and I still write on walls all the time.”
A self-described “Yankee-go-home” cartoonist for the newspaper Nishi Nippon Shimbun in Fukuoka, Japan, Sachio came to the United States to cover the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. “But I have too many United Airline martini,” he smiles, stroking his Fu Manchu beard. “I spend convention in hotel room, unable to move.” When he finally did emerge, he beheld a vast gray canvas—the city of Chicago.
In the city’s touristy Old Town, Sachio wrapped a striking blue-and-yellow impression of an ancient Japanese woodblock called Mount Fuji Viewed Through Waves around a three-story 1900s hardware store. He also splashed a vivid rainbow across the buildings on the grimy lower level of Michigan Avenue and embarked on a project to number and paint—each in a different hue—1,000 of the water towers that squat atop Chicago’s factories and commercial buildings. Other Sachio murals enliven dozens of Chicago’s parking lots and playgrounds. As his Bicentennial gift to the Windy City, Sachio wants to print “Welcome, Chicago” in flowering plants on 65,000 vacant acres surrounding O’Hare Airport. So far, he has been unable to obtain an audience with Mayor Richard J. Daley to disuss the proposal. Shrugs the artist: “I did not realize mayor like emperor.”
Meanwhile, Sachio cooks for friends and faculty members in Whitewater and tells them of his plans to paint local farmers’ silos and—if owner Bill Veeck ever allows it—White Sox Park in Chicago. “Usually other university dorm smell like marijuana,” nods the host between sips of a sake martini. “My dorm smell like sukiyaki.”