Mizufune Rokushû (水船六州 1912-80) was born in Kure, Hiroshima. Mizufune, whose father was a calligraphy teacher, studied ancient Chinese calligraphy, but graduated in 1936 from the Tokyo School of Fine Arts (majoring in sculpture; he was inspired by the great French sculptor Auguste Rodin). Early on, he participated in a printmaking study group taught by Hiratsuka Un'ichi (平塚運一 1895-1997). He later taught art at Kanto Gakuin, Yokohama, and served as the principal of Kanto Gakuin's elementary school (1960-77). Mizufune was a founding member of the Shin Hanga Shûdan (New Print Group) in 1932 (reorganized 1937 as Zôkei Hanga Kyôkai, Formative Print Society). He is best known in Japan as a sculptor, exhibiting and winning prizes in each year from 1937 to 1940, and national prizes in 1947, 1948, and 1950. He became attracted to woodcuts when his middle school art teacher gave him a book of the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch's work, but did not begin exhibiting prints seriously until 1955. He spent the academic year 1961-62 in the U.S., where he was resident artist at the Putney School in Marlboro College, Vermont. The dating of his works is very difficult, as he often printed impressions over long intervals, changing colors as he wished, yet maintaining a consistent style over the years. On June 30, 1980, he died at a hospital in Tokyo due to a cerebral hemorrhage.
Mizufune used thick, opaque watercolors with light colors frequently applied over dark, achieved by thickening water-based inks with Chinese white powder and inking and printing the color blocks several times. He would build up the layers of pigments until a thick impasto texture was achieved, with the results appearing like oil paint. Oliver Statler (Newsletter on Contemporary Japanese Prints, vol. 2, no. 1, Feb. 1972, issued by the Helen & Felix Juda Collection) quotes Mizufune: "Each print and sculpture begins in my mind with a poem.... There is awareness [pathos, compassion, sensibility] behind each of my prints. It reflects the Buddhist way of thought blended with our native Japanese way. Natural shapes stir me, old and weathered things ... patches of melting snow, pieces of driftwood, rusted iron, fragments of glass ... broken and discarded things, the imperfect, the helpless."
Gaston Petit reported that 8 blocks of shina-faced plywood were used to create this print, made on torinoko paper with Holbein watercolors mixed with gofun (white shell powder).* Petit's impression of this design is now in the collection of the British Museum (Reg. no. 1986,0321,0.483).
This design is one of the many works in which lighter pigments were applied thickly over darker pigments (see detail at right). The amusing use of the ideograph for "devil" (鬼) anthropomorphizes the character, as it sprouts red horns above a crude square face, with the lower strokes appearing as legs.
Mizufune Rokushû's works are housed in many institutional collections, including the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia; Art Institute of Chicago; British Museum, London; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; National Gallery of Art, Washington DC; and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC.
- Merritt, Helen, Modern Japanese Prints: The Early Years. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1990, pp. 255-56.
- * Gaston Petit, 44 Modern Japanese Print Artists. Tokyo/New York: Kodansha, 1973, no. 150 in volume 2.
- Smith, Lawrence, Modern Japanese Prints, 1912-1989. London: British Museum Press, 1994, pp. 59-60, plate 119 and p. 63.
- Statler, Oliver, "Newsletter on Contemporary Japanese Prints," vol. 2, no. 1, Feb. 1972, privately issued by the Helen and Felix Juda Collection, Los Angeles.