Sumio Kawakami 川上澄生 (1895-1972) Collar, Military Decorations, Mask, Hat (eri, kunshō, kamen, bōshi)
A school teacher who made prints in his spare time, Kawakami lived for over 30 years in a small provincial city several hours north of Tokyo. His career followed a highly individual path from the start. After graduating from college, he spent a year in the United States, supporting himself with odd jobs that included house painting in Seattle and a stint in a fish cannery in Alaska. Shortly after returning to Japan he accepted the teaching position he held for most of the remainder of his life. Though he exhibited with the Japan Creative Society in the early twenties, he knew relatively few of the print artists and was never much influenced by them.
Kawakami was fascinated by the amusing encounters and bizarre misunderstanding that had occurred when the first foreigners arrived in Japan, and this interest is reflected in a great many of his prints. He was a collector of old books – particularly books in English or other foreign languages – and of antique tobacco pipes; and his interest in these also provided him with a rich source of subject matter
Rei Yuki 由木礼 (1928-2003) Spleen, 1965
Rei’s prints have been described as “delicate fantasies, scenes of landscape that can exist only in the imagination.”
The texture of the woodblock itself creates dappled tones and fragile shades. The works are light, yet the source of the light is hidden behind fences and arches. It is a light defined by shadows, creating a mood of timeless suspension.
Hatsuyama Shigeru 初山滋 (1897-1973)
Primarily known as an illustrator of children’s books, Hatsuyama was also a successful sosaku hanga artist.
The charm and whimsy apparent in so many of Hatsuyama’s prints clearly relate to his work as a children’s illustrator. His use of color, which is quite distinctive, may well relate to his early experiences in a dye shop. One color which is almost a hallmark of his prints is the blue called ai, a vegetable pigment made from the plant of the same name.
Sources: British Museum website; L. Smith, and V. Harris, Modern Japanese prints, 1912-1989 (London, The British Museum Press, 1994); The Graphic Art of Onchi Koshiro -Innovation and Tradition by Elizabeth de Sabato Swinton
Onchi Kôshirô1 is considered one of the leading innovative figures among Japan’s twentieth-century artists. He is credited with producing Japan’s first purely abstract work Light Time in 1915. He produced single sheet prints and book designs, as well as being a poet and art theorist. He began his career learning oil painting at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts, going on to study sculpture, which he later abandoned. In 1911, under the influence of Takehisa Yumeji (1884-1934), Onchi began to design books and quickly became involved in producing print and poetry magazines. He designed the first edition of Hagiwara Sakutarô’s2 (1886-1942) innovative collection of poems Tsuki ni hoeru (Howling at the Moon, 1917).
Onchi’s contribution both as traditionalist and innovator can best be seen in his single-sheet prints. He was one of the founders of the sôsaku hanga (creative print) movement. Unlike traditional commercial woodblock printmakers, these artists were inspired by painting and carried out every stage of production themselves: designing, cutting, and printing, then circulating the finished works to a relatively small élite circle. Onchi’s prints are of four types: the traditional subjects of meisho (famous views) and bijin (beautiful women), portraits and abstracts. One of his most well-known portraits is the psychologically penetrating 1943 study of Hagiwara Sakutarô. Onchi started to make abstract prints at the beginning of the Taishô era (1912-26), and continued to experiment, drawing on traditional elements of Japanese color and decorative sense, combining them with motifs from international modernism. His prints were produced in very small editions, demonstrating his attitude to his works as one-offs, closer in spirit to paintings than to traditional woodblock prints.
1 Onchi’s name in is sometimes seen as Onchi Koushirou.
2 Considered by many to be Japan’s greatest lyric poet. His major works of poetry, written in 1917 and 1923, were Howling at the Moon and Blue