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Sumio Kawakami

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Sumio Kawakami
Japanese Printmaker
A school teacher who made prints in his spare time, Kawakami lived for over 30 years in a small provincial city several hours north of Tokyo. His career followed a highly individual path from the start. After graduating from college, he spent a year in the United States, supporting himself with odd jobs that included house painting in Seattle and a stint in a fish cannery in Alaska. Shortly after returning to Japan he accepted a teaching position in Utsunomiya, which he held for most of the remainder of his life. Though he exhibited with the Japan Creative Society in the early twenties, he knew relatively few of the print artists and was never much influenced by them.

Kawakami was fascinated by the amusing encounters and bizarre misunderstanding that had occurred when the first foreigners arrived in Japan, and this interest is reflected in a great many of his prints. He was a collector of old books – particularly books in English or other foreign languages – and of antique tobacco pipes; and his interest in these also provided him with a rich source of subject matter, as can be seen in the following 1955 print titled Nanbanesque Behavior.

Kawakami’s earliest prints were made from multiple blocks, but in the 1930s he began printing from only a single block – the black key block – and adding color by hand later in a method entirely unique to him. Though Kawakami was little known personally by other sosaku hanga artists, his work was definitely appreciated by them. Onchi Koshiro (1891-1955) considered Kawakami “an incomparable artist” and said that there were very few artists that he would “put in the same class with him.”


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