INAGAKI Tomoo (1902-1980)
Inagaki Tomoo (稲垣知雄) was born in Tokyo and graduated from the Okura Commercial High School. He was introduced to printmaking by Koshirô Onchi and Un'ichi Hiratsuka in 1923, when the older artists were producing the magazine Shi to hanga ("Poetry and Prints"). He acknowledged a great debt to the two masters, attending Shi to hanga meetings regularly and thereby taking his only tutelage in printmaking. He said that "Poetry and Prints convinced me that I wanted to be a print artist." Inagaki also studied commercial art with Hamada Masuji (浜田増治, 1892-1938).
Beginning in 1924, Inagaki published his first prints in magazines and journals, such as the aforementioned Shi to hanga, issue 13, 1924. Other magazines included Hanga ("Prints"), issues 6, 9/10, 11, 14; and Kitsutsuki ("Woodpecker"). He exhibited with the Nihon Sôsaku-Hanga Kyôkai ("Japan Creative Print Association") also in 1924. Inagaki became a member of the Nihon Hanga Kyôkai ("Japan Print Association") in 1932. As did many other artists of his generation, he participated in various post-war international competitions, including the Paris, Tokyo, and Lugano biennales.
During most of his career, Inagaki, like most of his contemporaries, could not make a living from printmaking. He once worked for a steel company, and starting in 1935, he taught at the Kyôhoku Commercial High School until 1951, when he joined the Japan Advertising Art School.
Inagaki is admired for his stylized images of cats, although he did not begin publishing them until circa 1951. His earlier works included still lifes, floral subjects, landscapes, and views of towns. The print shown on the upper right is a large work (532x400 mm on paper measuring 607x450 mm). It is signed "T. Inagaki" in English, dated 1964, and numbered 121/210. This is the second state, with a color-block change for the gray fur pattern on the cat at the right and alternate color block for the gray area at the top right (the earlier state was issued in an edition of 50). The overlapping geometric shapes produce a statuesque harmony between the two felines, and there is a hint of cubism in the composition.
Oliver Statler (see reference below) wrote that Inagaki tended to favor the flat chisel, although he used a range of cutting tools for his blocks. Statler also claimed that Inagaki did not make "detailed sketches"; however, such preliminary drawings do exist. The small examples (277x211 mm) shown here offer a further glimpse into the Inagaki's approach toward printmaking. The graphite sketch (immediately above left) probes the initial ideas for the design. Two sullen or angry cats are placed along vertical and diagonal guide lines. In the more fully worked-out color drawing (above middle), done on the opposite side of the same sheet of paper, a third cat has appeared, lurking in the background and adding more depth and drama to the scene. Again, grid lines (horizontal, diagonal, and vertical) aided the artist in laying out the elements of his design. There is a finished print from 1967 (immediately above right) that is very similar to the color drawing but measures 585x430 mm. Note, in particular, the most distant feline, whose upper body is hidden by the diagonal gray area, and yet the contour of the body is preserved by the vertical area printed with the same gray color block, paralleled by a narrow gray area for a leg and paw. This is a clever and effective use of stylized representational drawing blended with abstract design. The composition is known as Neko no koigataki ("Cats: Rivals in Love": 猫の恋仇), which provides a narrative context for the angry males. Presumably, the grid structure used in the small sketches facilitated a more than two-fold enlargement of the composition for a larger preparatory drawing (whereabouts unknown) and for the final print. Interestingly, in 1978, a company named Creative Art Tiles released a close variant of this design, called "The Rival Cats," composed of 12 mounted ceramic tiles, for which the artist was credited with the copyright.
Inagaki's work can be found in many private and public collections. A sketch of Inagaki's most sought-after design, "Cat Making Up" (1955), is in the Art Institute of Chicago. A small watercolor is also known. ©2009-2014 by John Fiorillo
- Inagaki Tomoo zen hanga shû (稲垣知雄全版画集) [Complete Collection of the Prints of Inagaki Tomoo]. Tokyo: Inshokan, 1982.
- Merritt, Helen and Yamada, Nanako: Guide to Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints: 1900-1975. University of Honolulu Press, 1992, p. 41.
- Smith, Lawrence: Modern Japanese Prints, 1912-1989. British Museum Press, 1994, p. 25 and color plate 99.
- Statler, Oliver: Modern Japanese Prints: An Art Reborn. Rutland & Tokyo: Tuttle, 1956, pp. 164-165; color plate facing p. 164; b/w figures nos. 91-92.