Shikō Munakata 棟方 志功
Shiko Munakata (1903-1975) was a Japanese artist, world-renowned for his woodblock prints and his role in popularising both the shin-hanga and mingei movements in the West. Munakata’s distinctive and harsh take on print making gained worldwide attention in the mid 20th Century: in the Eastern World, this was a result of his departure from more traditional production techniques whilst still maintaining the cultural subject matter of Buddha, flowers and similar everyday imagery. Whereas in the West, the prints were produced in a style not too dissimilar from the European abstract and modernist artists, which in turn gained Munakata the nickname of ‘Japanese Picasso.’ One can easily see the similarties between the two artists.
An interesting observation is noticing that Picasso and his French peers were influenced by the work of the earlier Japanese printmakers, notably Hokusai, which in turn influenced Munakata; the influence really travelled full circle within artistic circles in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Online database ArteLino state that: “At the age of 23 Munakata Shiko saw a woodblock print by Sumio Kawakami and decided to try woodblocks himself. Under the guidance of Unichi Hiratuka he learned the art of making moku-hanga – woodblock prints. Three years later he exhibited 4 woodblocks at the Shunyokai exhibition.”
“After World War II had ended, the artist became famous outside Japan. His works were shown at the Lugano Print Exhibition in 1952, the Sao Paulo Biannual in 1955, the Venice Biannual in 1956. In each of these exhibitions he was awarded with first prizes. After these successful exhibition, Munakata went to the U.S., where he lectured at different universities and had numerous solo exhibitions.”
Throughout his life Munakata was a practicing Buddhist, and thus many of his woodcuts and lithographs feature Buddhist iconography and religious subject matter. Many other works feature explicitly Japanese subject matter: Mount Fuji, mythical tales and Japanese legends.
Throughout his life Munakata worked closely with friend and publisher, Yasukawa of the Yasukawa Electronic Company. From 1958 Yasukawa produced an annual edition of 12 lithographs, released in the form of a calendar (the prints were intended to be removed from the calendars) – the editions were gifted exclusively to top clients, and close friends of Yasukawa and Munakata, and thus were not readily available to purchase. Produced in highly textural Japanese washipaper, the lithographs were meticulously produced in order to perfectly embody the feeling and emotion of Munakata’s original paintings and carvings.
In a statement from Yaskawa Global, Munakata discussed the calendar project and described how: “He wanted others to draw from life, to enjoy beautiful scenery, and to experience the delicacies of provincial areas. The calendars make it clear that he wanted others to enjoy the journey as well.”
These truly original collections were the result of close collaboration between Master Munakata and Yaskawa both in the planning and in the journey to gather the materials that were used. “No one was more enthusiastic about making the calendar’s truly great works of art than Master Munakata himself.”