Shiro Kasamatsu created prints in 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 convinced the young artist to make designs for woodblock prints. This was the beginning of a long and fruitful cooperation which started in 1919.
By the late 1940s Kasamatsu had created more than 50 prints commissioned and published by Watanabe. In the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 the blocks of all Kasamatsu prints were lost forever, when fires raged for three days 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. Until 1960 the artist created nearly 100 prints for Unsodo. 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, also Kasamatsu shows his true mastership in night, rain and in snow scenes.
At the same time, 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, more original. The subjects are landscapes, many kacho-e - prints that show birds and flowers.
The development of Kasamatsu's printmaking style shows a similarity to a contemporary of him - Tomikichiro Tokuriki from Kyoto. Also Tomikichiro 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 then a business. Tomikichiro Tokuriki once expressed it clearly in an interview:
"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.
A short but nice color slide show of woodblock prints by Shiro Kasamatsu. Thanks to huli2005.
Author: Dieter Wanczura