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Utamaro print showing


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KAWACHI Seiko (河内成幸)


KAWACHI Seiko (河内成幸) was born in Uenohara, Yamanashi Prefecture in 1948. Until around 1982-83 he also used the name Kawachi Shigeyuki. He graduated from the oil painting department of the private and top-rated Tama Art University (多摩美術大学, Tama Bijutsu Daigaku) in 1973, where he then taught until 1985. In that year he went to Columbia University, New York on a scholarship from Japan's Agency for Cultural Affairs (Ministry of Education). The following year, he traveled to Europe.

Until around 1976 Kawachi experimented with silk screen, lithograph, and collages, but after he won the Grand Prix at the 44th Japan Print Association Exhibition that year, he began working mainly in woodblock, eventually also incorporating wood-engraved (intaglio) along with conventional relief carving (what Kawachi called "anastatic") wood veneers. He settled primarily on semi-abstracted imagery of man-made structures and devices under extreme mechanical stress, which many have interpreted as expressions of the collapse of modern urban industrial life. An example of such a design is shown below, a very large print from 1984 titled Kasoku yume IV (Acceleration Dream 4: 加速夢 IV). Massive wooden girders are being torn apart from the stress applied by taut cables or ropes looped through pulleys. Ghost images of the previous positions (only moments before) of the compromised beams are drawn in gray below or above the present state of the forms.

Kawachi Seiko: Kasoku yume IV (Acceleration Dream 4: 加速夢 IV), 1984
Woodcut and wood-engraving; edition 8/35; image: 910 x 630 mm; paper: 985 x 684 mm

Kawachi's dark, monumental prints are characterized by scarred surfaces, with splashes of pigments, rough uneven color areas, and scratchy passages. He pays attention to the surface quality of the paper, using textures that will enhance the effects of disturbance as expressed in his designs. Only after the colors have been applied does Kawachi print the black lines (thus a reversal of the traditional method when keyblock lines were printed first). Often they are engraved into veneers that have been varnished. Overall, the effect is one of on-the-verge-of-a-breakdown anxiety.

Various commentators have mentioned the expression of tension to be found in Kawachi's mature works. Lawrence Smith (1985 ref. below) wrote: "[Kawachi] is above all the artist of metropolitan stress and tension.... His use of the grain and the blemishes of the veneer gives vitality to his surfaces.... The sense of sheer scale and massive, uncontrollable forces in these big prints is most remarkable."

Kawachi has been given many solo exhibitions and received various awards during the course of his career, including the Grand Prize at the 44th Japan Print Association Exhibition in 1976 and the Grand Prix at the Eighth Grenchen (Switzerland) International Color Print Triennale in 1979. He also received the highest awards at the Sixth Norwegian International Print Biennale Exhibition in 1982, the fourth California International Print Exhibition in 1983, and the Third Tama City (Tokyo) Grand Prix Exhibition in 1992. In addition, he was awarded various prizes at the Eighteenth Ljubljana International Print Biennale Exhibition in 1989, the Biella (Italy) International Print Exhibition in 1990, the First Kochi International Print Triennale Exhibition in 1990, the Osaka International Print Triennale Exhibition in 1991, and the Second Kochi International Print Triennale Exhibition in 1993. Then in 2011, Kawachi received the Medal of Honor with Purple Ribbon (Shiju hôshô, 紫綬勳章), a prestigious award given by the Japanese government in the name of the Emperor for innovative contributions to the arts, academics, or sports.

Works by Kawachi Seiko can be found in important public institutions, including the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Australia; Art Institute of Chicago; British Museum; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; Fine Art Museums of San Francisco; Queensland Art Gallery, Australia; Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura and Hayama; National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; and Seattle Art Museum. © 2020 by John Fiorillo


  • Catalogue of Collections [Modern Prints]: The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo (Tokyo kokuritsu kindai bijutsukan shozô-hin mokuroku, 東京国立近代美術館所蔵品目録). 1993, p. 114, nos. 1041-1042.
  • Kawachi, Seiko (with Takahiko Okada; Masataka Ogawa; Laurence Smith): Kawachi Seiko zen hanga, 1968-1987 (Seiko Kawachi: The Graphic Work, 1968-1987: 河内成幸全版画 1968-1987). Tokyo: Abe Shuppan (Abe Publishing Co.: 阿部出版), 1987.
  • Kawachi, Seiko: Seiko Kawachi - Graphic Works, 1988-91. Tokyo: Art Mu, Inc., 1991.
  • Kawachi, Seiko (河内成幸): Kawachi Seikô sakuhinshû (The works of Seiko Kawachi: 河内成幸作品集). Tokyo: Kyûryûdô (求龍堂), 1997.
  • Smith, Lawrence: The Japanese Print Since 1900: Old Dreams and New Visions. London: British Museum Press, 1983, pp. 132-133, nos 126-7.
  • Smith, Lawrence: Contemporary Japanese Prints: Symbols of a Society in Transition. London: British Museum Press, 1985, p. 31, no. 19.
  • Smith, Lawrence: Modern Japanese Prints 1912-1989. London: British Museum Press, 1994, pp. 26-7, 66, and nos 135-8.
  • Smith, Lawrence, Harris, Victor, and Clark, Timothy: "Japanese Art: Masterpieces in the British Museum," London: British Museum Press, 1990, no. 249.
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