Tuesday, May 20, 2014


Misty Evening at Shinobazu Pond*

Shiro Kasamatsu (January 11, 1898 - June 14, 1991) was a print maker of shin hanga style for the publisher Watanabe Shozaburo. During the last years Kasamatsu prints have developed to some kind of insiders' tip for collectors of Japanese prints and art lovers.

Shiro Kasamatsu was born in Tokyo in 1898. At the age of 13 he entered the painting school of Kaburagi Kiyokata - a master in traditional Japanese painting and printmaking. Kasamatsu was very talented, and beginning at a young age, his paintings were shown in various exhibitions.
When the publisher Watanabe Shozaburo saw one of Kasamatsu's paintings, he was impressed and in 1919 convinced the young artist to make designs for woodblock prints. This was the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship.

By the late 1940s Kasamatsu had created more than 50 prints commissioned and published by Watanabe. Most unfortunately for us, all the Kasmatsu blocks and unsold prints prior to 1923 were lost In the Great Kanto Earthquake when fires raged for three days through Tokyo and destroyed Watanabe's print shop.

Another famous student of Kaburagi Kiyokata was Kawase Hasui. Also Hasui became a very close cooperation partner for Watanabe's circle of shin hanga artists. Kaburagi Kiyokata was certainly the one who introduced Kawase Hasui, Ito Shinsui, Kasamatsu and others to Watanabe.

In the early 1950s Shiro Kasamatsu changed his publisher partner to Unsodo in Kyoto creating nearly 100 prints for him through 1960. The prints designed for Unsodo are nearly exclusively in Shin Hanga style and show traditional subjects - mostly landscapes and a few interior scenes in soft colors. Like Kawase Hasui, Kasamatsu shows his true mastership in night, rain and in snow scenes.

During this same period, Shiro Kasamatsu started experimenting in Sosaku Hanga style - self-carved, self-printed and self-published. The style of these self-published prints is clearly sosaku hanga style - more modern, more Western-like, less refined, and more original. The subjects are landscapes and  many kacho-e - prints that show birds and flowers.

The development of Kasamatsu's printmaking style shows a similarity to that of one of his  contemporaries - Tomikichiro Tokuriki from Kyoto, who also  created sosaku hanga while he published works in shin hanga style with Uchida and Unsodo from Kyoto.

The explanation for this parallel creation of two different styles of woodblock prints is simple -  the prints in shin hanga style assured a steady income, while the works in sosaku hanga style remained more of a hobby or simply an exercise in art rather  than a business. Tomikichiro Tokuriki once expressed it clearly this way:
"I'd rather do nothing but creative prints, but after all, I sell maybe ten of them against two hundred for a publisher-artisan print."
It can be assumed that the situation was precisely the same for Shiro Kasamatsu. The artist had created about 80 of his self-published 'hobby' prints between 1955 and 1965.

*Shinobazu Pond is located in Ueno Park, Tokyo.

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