Kitaoka Fumio (北岡文雄) studied woodblock printing at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts with Un'ichi Hiratsuka, one of the principal figures in the sosaku hanga movement. Kitaoka later became one of the many disciples of the seminal figure in abstract and experimental print design, Kôshirô Onchi.
Early in his career Kitaoka worked in wood engraving, which he learned at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, Paris. Engraving involves cutting with graver tools against the end grain in contrast to the Japanese method of cutting with the grain. The contour lines are "engraved" or cut into (below) the surface, so that the effect is one of white lines on a dark background — in contrast to the Japanese method of cutting the wood away from the lines and leaving them in relief above the surface.
The end-grain technique gave Kitaoka's early works a European flavor, although the subjects were Japanese. Later, he began working in a more decorative style as he produced picturesque views of landscapes and rural scenes, often brightly colored with thickly applied pigments.
The figure on the top right is an early work from 1948. It is printed in black pigment (sumi) on large format, high-quality paper measuring 477 x 379 mm. There is powdered mica sprinkled lightly over the entire surface of the paper. It is signed and dated in pencil at the edge of the paper in the lower margin. There is also a keyblock signature at the lower right of the image.
Kitaoka's portrait features the writer Yoshirô Nagayo (1888-1961). Nagayo was a novelist, playwright, and critic whose works were highly acclaimed. He was also avidly involved in humanitarian social movements and liberal political causes.
Kitaoka's composition does not have a single perspective for the receding space, but rather blends multiple perspectives as the point of view shifts across the image. The quality of the engraving is reminiscent of European-style end-grain engraving (see the detail on the left). The result is bold with a sculptural or chiseled effect, a successful homage to Nagayo as an important literary and social figure in Japan.
©1999-2001 by John Fiorillo