This page lists leading artists of the Japanese sosaku hanga art movement. Sosaku hanga was a reinvention of Japanese printmaking influenced by Western ideas of fine art. The sosaku hanga artists broke with the past, threw the old tradition of Japanese printmaking over board, and followed Western ideas of creativity and modern art styles that they had experienced during art studies in Europe.
Around the turn from the 19th to the 20th century the traditional craft of Japanese woodblock printmaking known as ukiyo-e was a threatened species. The original purpose of copying text (books) and images by carving wooden blocks had been replaced by photography, lithography and other modern printing methods.
In the late nineteenth century young Japanese students had been sent abroad by the administration of the Meiji government to study Western science, engineering, administration, military and also Western art. Japanese students attended art academies in Paris, Rome or Berlin. And they made two new experiences. The first was the development of modern Western art with impressionism and expressionism. And the second encounter was that prints were regarded as fine art in Western societies, while ukiyo-e was seen as a mass media in Japan made by artisans.
Back at home these young people created the idea of sosaku hanga, meaning "creative prints". They thought that real art could only be created if the artist did the complete process of making a woodblock print himself: drawing, carving the block, and printing. In traditional ukiyo-e, the artist was only responsible for the design/drawing. The carving and printing was done by highly skilled and specialized professional carvers and printers. And furthermore, the whole process was usually managed by a print publisher who had only one thing in his mind: making a print that sold in the market.
Sosaku Hanga began around the year 1909 and before world war II was hardly noticed by the public, neither in Japan nor abroad. Things changed after the war with the American soldiers stationed in Japan. They developed a lively interest in contemporary Japanese printmaking, and one of them, Oliver Statler, even had a paramount role in promoting Japanese print after 1945.
The list of artists is by far not complete. We list only the better known artists (.. and forgive me, or let me know if we forgot a major artist of the sosaku hanga movement). The number of sosaku hanga artists is by far larger than those attributed to the shin hanga art movement. Many of the sosaku hanga artists created woodblock prints as a "part-time job". They could not make a living with sosaku hanga, and had a "normal" job like Sumio Kawakami, who worked as teacher for English.
Author: Dieter Wanczura