棟方志功 (1903-1975), born in Aomori
, was a Japanese woodblock
printmaker in the 20th Century. He is associated with the sosaku hanga
movement and the mingei
(folk art) movement. Munakata was awarded the "Prize of Excellence" at the Second International Print Exhibition in Lugano, Switzerland in 1952. He was awarded the Order of Culture, the highest honor in the arts by the Japanese government in 1970.
The Path towards Woodblock Prints
Munakata’s artistic endeavor was sparked by Vincent van Gogh
’s (1853-1890) Still Life: Vase with Five Flowers
, which he encountered in 1921. Upon viewing of van Gogh’s artwork, Munakata wanted to become van Gough’s Munakata in Aomori
. In 1926, Munakata saw Kawakami Sumio
’s black-and-white woodcut Early Summer Breeze
, and decided to work on black-and-white prints. From 1928 onwards, Hiratsuka Unichi
(1895-1997), another renowned sosaku hanga
printmaker, taught Munakata wood carving
. Munakata’s early career was not without obstacles. He was rejected by the Bunten
(The Ministry of Education Fine Arts Exhibition) four times, before getting accepted by Teiten (former Bunten
) in 1928. In 1935, Yanagi Soetsu
(1889-1961), father of the mingei
(folk art) movement, saw Munakata’s prints at the Kokugakai’s annual spring show and bought twenty-five prints of “Yamato shi Uruwashi” by Munakata. This event changed Munakata’s life. From then on Munakata was closely associated with the Japanese mingei
(folk art) movement. In 1936, Munakata went to Kyoto
and visited many temples
and saw many sculptures
. Munakata’s exposure to Buddhist
figures and images influenced his artistic style significantly. Ten Great Disciples of the Buddha
(1939) is considered to be his greatest masterpiece.
Subject Matter and Technique
Born in Aomori in the northernmost prefecture in Honshū, Munakata shared with the local people love of nature and folk festivals such as the Nebuta festival. The Nebuta festival became one of the major themes of his artworks. Munakata’s belief and philosophy were engrained in Zen Buddhism. His prints feature images of floating nude females representing kami that inhabit trees and plants. Inspired by poetry of Heian, Munakata also incorporated poetry and calligraphy in his prints.
The fearsomely shortsighted artist brought his face almost into contact with the wood when he carved. In his words, “the mind goes and the tool walks alone”. Munakata carved with amazing speed and scarcely used any preparatory sketches, producing spontaneous vitality that is unique to his prints. During the early stage of his career, Munakata worked exclusively on black-and-white prints. Later on, upon the advice of Yanagi Soetsu (1889-1961), Munakata colored his prints from the back, a technique called "urazaishiki".
Munakata’s Philosophy on Woodblock Prints
Unlike Onchi Koshiro
(1891-1955), father of the sosaku hanga
movement, who advocated artists’ expression of the “self” in creating prints, Munakata disclaimed all responsibilities as creator of art. For Munakata, artistic creation is one but many of the manifestations of nature’s force and beauty, which is inherent in the woodblock itself. Munakata called prints “itaga
” instead of “hanga
”, emphasizing the material instead of the process of printing
. (written in the same kanji
” refers to the process of printing
, whereas “ita
” refers to the woodblockitself). In Munakata words, “the essence of hanga lies in the fact that one must give in to the ways of the board…there is a power in the board, and one cannot force the tool against that power.” Munakata’s subject matter and artistic style are very much characterized by his philosophy on the supremacy of the woodblock material and nature’s inherent force and beauty.
Quotations of Shiko Munakata
"Like the vastness of space, like a universe unlimited, untold, unattainable, and inscrutable- that is the woodcut."
"The nature of the woodcut is such, that even a mistake in its carving will not prevent it from its true materialization."
"The concern that it be ugly is characteristic of human thoughts and not of the woodcut itself."
"It is inherent in the woodcut that it can never be ugly"
"The woodcut, unconcerned with good and evil, with ideas, with differences, tells us that it consists of truth alone,"
"It is precisely the beauty of this which will further enlarge the limitlessness of the world of beauty."
from Shiko Munakata, Munakata: the “Way” of the Woodcut, Brooklyn, Pratt Adlib Press, 1961.
References and Further reading
- Castile, Rand. Shiko Munakata (1903-1973): Works on Paper. New York: Japan Society, 1982.
- Munakata, Shiko. Munakata: the “Way” of the Woodcut. Brooklyn, Pratt Adlib Press, 1961.
- Singer, Robert T. and Nobuho, Kakeya. Munakata Shiko: Japanese Master of the Modern Print. Philadelphia and Los Angeles: Philadelphia Museum of Art and Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2002. ISBN 1-58886-021-3
- Yanagi, Sori. The Woodblock and the Artist: the Life and Work of Shiko Munakata. Tokyo, New York: Kodansha International, 1991. ISBN 4-7700-1612-3