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FUJIMAKI Yoshio (藤牧義夫)
1911–c. 1935

 

Fujimaki Yoshio (藤牧義夫) was the youngest (fourth) son of Fujimaki Minoshichi (died 1925) and his wife Taka (died 1917) in Tatebayashi-chô, Oura County, Gunma Prefecture, where they operated a convenience goods store from their home. The elder Fujimaki had been a teacher and an elementary school principal. He was also accomplished at drawing and calligraphy. In 1923, the younger Fujimaki graduated from Tatebayashi City Daiichi Elementary School (立第一小学校に入学), and completed an advanced course (high school) in 1925. The following year, Fujimaki relocated to Tokyo where he frequently visited the Ueno Library and studied commercial designs. He was essentially self-taught as an illustrator, relying on publications such as Gendai Shôgyô Bijutsu Zenshû ("Complete Collection of Modern Commercial Art," 現代商業美術全集, 24 volumes, 1927-1930). By 1928, Fujimaki was employed at the Uematsu design studio (植松図案工房) in Ginza.

Fujimaki Yoshio: Red sun (Sekiyô 赤陽), woodcut, 505 × 291 mm, 1934

Fujimaki began to produce woodcuts around 1928-1929 under the influence of the German Expressionist school (he knew the works of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Otto Dix, and Käthe Kollwitz, although only from poor-quality photographs). Hiratsuka Unichi's (平塚運一 1895-1997) book on woodcuts, "Printmaking techniques" (Hanga no gihô, 版画の技法) from 1927, also had an impact. In 1931, he submitted a woodcut titled Gado-shita no supaku ("Spark under a railroad bridge," ガード下のスパーク) to the ninth exhibition of the art society Shunyô-kai (春陽会 founded in 1922 as an alternative yôga or Western-style art society). The Shunyô-kai prided itself on respecting the originality of each artist and its comprehensive embrace of various media, including oil painting, prints, drawings, ink paintings, and original works for newspaper illustrations. In 1932, Fujimori was a founding member of a new collective of woodblock artists calling themselves Shin Hanga Shûdan (New Print Group, 新版画集団), led by Ono Tadashige, with meetings held at the house of the artist Ono Tadashige (小野忠重, 1909-1990). Fujimaki published much of his work in ten or more (13?) issues of the group's art journal Shin Hanga (New Prints, 新版画 18 total issues, June 1932 to December 1935), starting with a self-portrait woodcut in the first issue. He also designed some of its covers, including Issue No. 4, which examined the progress of urban renewal in Tokyo.

Fujimaki Yoshio: Morning, Self-Portrait (Asa, 朝 Jigazô, 自画像)
Woodcut, 117 x 95 mm, published in Shin Hanga (新版画), No. 1, June 1932
Fujimaki Yoshio: Cover for Shin Hanga (新版画), No. 4, September 1932, Urban-Rural Diagnosis Issue (Toshi den'en shindan-gô, 都市田園診断号), woodcut 296 x 225 mm (entire cover 296 x 225 mm)

In 1933, Fujimaki's print Kyûyujo ("Gasoline filling station" 給油所) was accepted for exhibition by the Fourteenth Teiten (帝展), that is, the Teikoku Bijutsu Tenrankai (Imperial Art Academy Exhibition, 帝國美術展覧會). It seems a whimsical vision of a gas station, with the fuel pump rendered in an anthropomorphic manner, as well as the posts and chain, as if they were four people holding hands. The chromatic palette is unusual, too, in four colors, all textured.

Fujimaki Yoshio: Gasoline filling station (Kyûyujo, 給油所)
Woodcut, 200 x 314 mm, accepted into the Fourteenth Teiten (帝展) exhibition in 1933

Fujimaki returned to his home in Tatebayashi in 1934, and by the following year he had completed an important painted handscroll titled "Picture scroll of the Sumida Riverbank" (Sumidagawa kishi emaki, 隅田川岸絵巻) consisting of four volumes, each around 14 to 16 meters long, now owned by the Tatebayashi City Daiichi Museum (館林市第一資料館). At this time Fujimaki was treated for tuberculosis and was also diagnosed with neurosis and depression aggravated by the stress of poverty and exhaustion from overwork. Even so, he continued to work, producing an essay in April of 1935 titled "Live in the times, transcend the times" (Shiryôkan jidai ni ikiyo, jidai o koe yo, 時代に生きよ、時代を超えよ). In June he was given a solo exhibition (rare at this time for young modern artists) at the Tokyodô Shoten Gallery in Kanda, Tokyo (Chiyoda Ward). Both Onchi Kôshirô and Maekawa Senpan praised the show [Ono, 1978, p. 270]. In September Fujimaki visited Ono Tadashige in Mukojima, Tokyo, presented him with a print, and then disappeared, saying he was going to visit his sister in Kojima-chô, Asakusa, Tokyo. He was never seen or heard from again. His mysterious and troubling disappearance is usually assumed to have been a suicide by drowning in the Sumidagawa, although a conspiracy theory or two have emerged linked with Ono Tadashige; however, these conjectures are beyond the scope of this brief article.

Fujimaki's cityscapes are characterized by energetic block carving, some showing the influence of German Expressionism and certain monochromatic works by early Sôsaku Hanga artists, including Hiratsuka Unichi. The style is more like an endgrain engraving than a traditional Japanese woodcut, with areas gauged out, leaving behind the forms for inking (i.e., not carved on either side of lines in the ukiyo-e manner). He seemed fascinated by the modernizing of Tokyo, at this time barely a decade after the Great Kantô Earthquake had leveled the metropolis in 1923. Reconstruction brought about new iron bridges, office buildings, train stations, theaters, boulevards, and more.

Fujimaki Yoshio: Cityscape (Tokai fûkei, 都會風景)
Woodcut, 150 x 170 mm, published in Shin Hanga (新版画) no. 10, October 1932

Fujimaki experimented with different approaches to printmaking. He used a triangular chisel to carve his blocks, and is credited with being among the first artists to use shina (科) plywood (Japanese basswood) instead of the traditional (ukiyo-e) cherrywood for keyblocks. He took up etching at the studio of the artist, businessman, art dealer, and magazine publisher (Etchingu, ‘Etching’) Nishida Takeo (西田武雄 1894–1961), a central figure whose patronage was critical to the young artists of the period. Very early in his career, the leading sôsaku hanga artist Sekino Jun'ichirô called Nishida’s etchings his "guiding lights."

One of Fujimaki's most expressive and important (and largest) prints is the Red Sun (Sekiyô 赤陽) from 1934 (see image at the top of this page), said to depict a scene in Ueno Hirokoji, looking down toward Yushima from the Matsuzakaya Department Store. The experimental nature of his technique, more a gouging and scratching of the block than a traditional carving, is well represented here. The setting sun is hand painted, not printed, and the block was altered with impromptu compositional changes, including (so says the Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo website) "the lower part of a printed image cut out, slid upward and glued back on." An expressionistic work, the emotional charge is evident and potent.

Late in his very brief career, Fujimaki designed a poster for an independent print exhibition at the Tokyodô Shoten Gallery (Tokyodô Shoten Garô, 東京堂書店画廊), Tokyo. The bold design depicts support cables on the Kiyosu Bridge (Kiyosu-bashi, 清洲橋), which spans the Sumida River in Tokyo, sweeping across the pictorial space from the top left to the lower right. A factory in the distance emits a cloud-like plume from its smokestack while a propeller plane is in flight. Using only black pigment, Fujimaki produced a clever combination of positive and negative text. The lively title at the top is a bit too large for the horizontal width of the sheet, so the character for "exhibition" (展) "falls" into the space near the top left, separated from additional smaller characters in the left border by a row of ten dots. There is a powerful graphic imagination at work here. Onchi Kôshirô described Fujimaki as "an important exemplar of Sôsaku Hanga for the sense of natural beauty of his designs. Among his works are some street scenes which convey a sad, poetic mood — apparently an aspect of his personality. He was in many ways a miraculous artist, both mysterious and wonderful."

Fujimaki Yoshio: Independent Print Exhibition (Hanga Andepandan-ten, 版画アンデパンダン展)
Kiyosu Bridge (Kiyosu-bashi, 清洲橋)
Woodcut, 395 × 273 mm, June 12-14, 1934
Courtesy of Elias Martin Collection (EMFA, Ltd)

Works by Fujimaki Yoshio are held in public institutions such as the Aichi Prefectural Museum (愛知県美術館); Art Institute of Chicago; British Museum, London; Gunma Museum of Art, Tatebayashi (群馬県立館林美術館); Kanagawa Prefectural Museum of Modern Art (神奈川県立近代美術館); Machida City International Print Museum (町田市立国際版画美術館); Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura & Hayama (神奈川県立近代美術館); National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo (東京国立近代美術館); Ono Tadashige Print Museum (小野忠重版画館); and Tatebayashi City Daiichi Museum (館林市第一資料館).

© 2024 by John Fiorillo

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Fujimaki at Japanese Wiki
  • Merritt, Helen and Yamada, Nanako, Guide to Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints 1900-1975. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1992, p. 18.
  • Onchi, Kôshirô, Nihon gendai no hanga (Modern Japanese Prints). Sôgensha Tokyo 1953, reprinted in Onchi Kôshirô, Chûshô no hyôjô (Abstract expressionism), Onchi Kunio (ed.). Abe Shuppan, Tokyo 1992.
  • Ono Tadashige, Hanga no Seishun. ("The Springtime of Printmaking," 版画の青春). Tokyo: Keishôsha, 1978, pp. 270, 272 [A valuable collection of previously published artist studies from articles and catalogue essays.]
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