Koshiro Onchi was some kind of a Japanese Wassily Kandinsky. He was not only an active promoter and theorist of modern and abstract art. Like Kandinsky, he had many other artistic talents - music and poetry.
Koshiro Onchi was born into a family of talented artists. His father was a master of calligraphy and a painter himself. Koshiro began to study oil painting and sculpture at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts in 1910. But like so many other great genius artists - Salvador Dali or Toulouse Lautrec for instance - he had problems adopting himself to the traditional way of art teaching. Onchi was fired, later readmitted to Tokyo Art School, but never made his final exams.
In 1913, Onchi established a magazine for poetry, Tsukubue, which he used as a platform to publish his own print works. His first commissions were book illustrations. This was a field, in which the artist established some early reputation. At the end of his life, Onchi had illustrated more than a 1,000 books.
Koshiro Onchi played a major role in promoting the sosaku hanga movement. He became a leading member in several artist associations, exhibited in all major exhibitions and contributed regularly to newspapers and magazines. He became an editor for an art magazine and published several books with his poetry and his illustrations.
Onchi had learned some German and had knowledge of the existence of Russian-born painter Wassily Kandinsky. Although the artistic styles of Wassily Kandinsky and Koshiro Onchi are not comparable, there are a few interesting parallels between the two men, who had never met in life.
Like Kandinsky, Onchi came from a bourgois, aristocratic family which gave him a chance to develop different artistic talents at an early age. Kandinsky had learned to play the piano and the violin. Also Onchi had a close relationship with classical music. Kandinsky titled many of his abstract paintings 'compositions', Onchi made a whole series of lyric prints, in which he tried to express musical emotions.
Kochiro Onchi and Kandinsky were both creative forerunners of expressionism and abstract art. And both men were also theorists of the art movements which they practised and promoted.
Helen Merritt and Nanako Yamada, "Guide to Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints: 1900-1975", published by University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, ISBN 0-8248-1732-X.
Author: Dieter Wanczura