KAWANISHI Hide (1894-1965)
Kawanishi Hide (川西英) was born and worked in Kobe, an international port city that inspired much of his subject matter. He was employed as a postmaster, but his ancestors were merchants, particularly traders in sake, mirin, and shochu, which they transported to Tokyo in their fleet of ships. Kawanishi's family opposed his becoming involved in painting and printmaking.
A self-taught artist, Kawanishi started painting in oils, but turned to woodblock printmaking after seeing a print by Yamamoto Kanae (A small bay in Brittany) displayed in a shop window in Osaka. He was not interested in ukiyo-e, although Nagasaki-e fascinated him, with its exotic ships and foreign traders. Gradually abandoning oils, Kawanishi fell under the influence of the Art Deco poster style of the 1920s and first exhibited prints in 1923 with the Nihon Sôsaku-Hanga Kyôkai (Japan Creative Print Association). Other influences were Onchi Kôshirô, Yamamoto, and European artists such as Lautrec, Gaugin, Van Gogh, Leger, and Matisse.
Kawanishi used poster colors and sumi, cutting his blocks with a curved chisel to obtain soft edges. He used katsura or ho wood, and printed on hodomura paper. He produced a large number of single-sheet designs (possibly around 1,000), as well as printed albums and books, and sets or series. The latter included Shôwa bijin fûzoku jûnitai (Twelve customs of beauties rom the Shôwa era), 1929; Kobe jûnigagetsu fûkei (Scenes of Kobe during the twelve months), 1931; and Hanga Kobe hyakkei (Prints of one hundred views of Kobe), 1935. Kawanishi was awarded the Hyôgo Prefecture Culture Prize (1949) and the Kobe Shinbun Peace Prize (1962). His son Kawanishi Yûzaburô (b. 1923) works in his father’s style, but with more international subjects.
Dated 1957, the design illustrated here is titled "The Pond" in English and Ike in Japanese. The number in the edition is 11/200, and the image size 483x333 mm on paper measuring 591x446 mm. The simple shapes and bright palette were typical of his post-war works. Black (sumi) is not used for a key block; rather, it is yet another option for a color field. (All colors were printed without contour lines.) Although Kawanishi claimed Matisse was only an indirect influence (he said Matisse furnished "food" for art), the "Pond" reminds one of the French master's late-career cut-outs. There is even a hint of "dancing" forms in Kawanishi's placement of leaves and flowers. ©2009 by John Fiorillo
- Azechi, Umetarô: Japanese Woodblock Prints: Their Techniques and Appreciation, color plate 5.
- Merritt, Helen and Yamada, Nanako: Guide to Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints, 1900-1975. University of Hawaii Press, 1992, p. 61.
- Lawrence Smith: Modern Japanese Prints 1912-1989. London: British Museum Press, 1994, p. 27 and cat. 20-21.
- Statler, Oliver: Modern Japanese Prints: An Art Reborn. Rutland, VT: Tuttle Co., 1956, pp. 114-118, plate no. 65, 70, 71.