Gregory Sumida was born in 1948 to American-born Japanese parents and raised with two sisters in a working-class Watts community of Los Angeles, Sumida, who is self-taught and sold his first painting to a gallery at age 15, has gone on to defy expectations in any number of ways. An artist equally confident with gouache, charcoal, watercolor, oil, and egg tempera, he is known for powerful realist western landscape paintings and for beautifully observed scenes of Crow and Shoshone Indians. He is also esteemed for vividly impressionistic, ineffably spiritual pieces depicting mermaids and for Asian-inflected pieces that speak of simplicity. Sumida's work is so wide-ranging that attendees at one of his recent one-man exhibitions told the gallery owner they were certain they had just seen a two-man show.
Sumida was reared largely by Spanish-speaking nannies while his "very progressive" father and mother worked. Sumida's first language was spanish. Art became his second language. Sumida had many insecurities, He stuttered and stammered so badly, he had to have special treatment and had a very difficult time communicating. When he began to draw on his own in the second grade, drawing became a new language and, soon, drawing began taking him around the school, teaching art to students all the way up to sixth grade. Having no trouble 'conversing' in this new language, he knew that he wanted to be a painter. By high school, Sumida excelled in watercolor landscapes, often capturing in earthly tones the majestic mountain ranges of Southern California. He remembers, "He became obsessed by watercolors and was just naturally moved by people and by landscapes right from the beginning. I was also drawing horses and many other different things, but I actually got thrown out of one high school because I was drawing nudes. From very early on, Sumida also became attracted to capturing certain tribes of people as a pointed reminder of when times were slower.