Mori Yoshitoshi (森義利 1898-1992) was born in Tokyo and graduated from the Kawabata School of Fine Arts. He studied stencil dyeing with Yanagi Sôetsu (柳宗悦 1889-1961), a philosopher who helped establish the Mingei (folk crafts: 民芸) movement in the late 1920s and 1930s. Mori also studied with the textile designer, leading member of the mingei movement, and ningen kokuhô (Living National Treasure: 人間国宝 in 1956) Serizawa Keisuke (芹沢銈介 1895-1984). Mori produced tapestries in the 1940s that he entered into exhibitions, and began making monotype stencil prints from wooden blocks and glass sheets in 1951. He first exhibited prints on paper in 1954, encouraged by Yanagi.
A revealing incident occurred in 1957 that was both a disappointment and a triumph for Mori. Eight hundred prints by 250 artists from around the world were entered into the First International Biennial of Prints in Tokyo. The judges were from France, Spain, West Germany, Israel, and Japan. Dissension ensued, with the Japanese judges favoring prints in the Western manner, while the foreign judges preferred works in the Japanese tradition. On the strength of the vote by the Japanese contingent, first prize went to the mezzotint master Hamaguchi Yôzô (浜口陽三 1909-2000), but Mori was the favorite of the foreign judges. Despite the outcome, Mori was encouraged to pursue printmaking.
Mori straddled the worlds of artist and artisan-craftsman until 1962 when his kappazuri-e (lit., "oil-skin prints," or stencil prints: 合羽摺絵) met with criticism from Serizawa, who in a well-known debate charged Mori with abandoning the crafts movement. Mori thereafter devoted himself to the art of kappazuri-e and was no longer closely associated with the mingei movement. For more than 30 years his subjects included kabuki, craftsmen, festivals, and figures from traditional stories, printed on colored or plain grounds. Stylistically, his figures are typically positioned in contorted, dynamic masses of shapes and colors. They nearly always expressed a unique artistic vision.
Shôki (鍾馗) subduing an oni (demon: 鬼). Shôki (Chinese: Zhong kui or Chung Kwei), also identified as Kômataijin (God of Exorcism: 降魔大人), is a Taoist god and familiar figure in Japanese and Chinese mythology known as the "Demon Queller." He is often depicted in sculpture and painting, and images of him are displayed on household gates as a guardian spirit, as well as in places of business where expensive goods are sold or traded.
In legend and mythology, Zhong Kui was a devoted but flawed student who failed a national examination and committed suicide. (In another version, he scored top honors but was stripped of his title by the emperor because the sovereign found him to be disfigured and ugly, whereupon Zhong Kui committed suicide.). In either case, Zhong Kui was condemned to Hell because he committed the grave sin of suicide. However, Yama or King Yan (Ch:閻王, 阎王, Yánwáng, the Chinese ruler of Hell; Jp: Enma 閻魔, King Enma 閻魔王 Enma-ô, or Great King Enma 閻魔大王 Enma Dai-Ô) made Zhong Kui the king of ghosts and tasked him to hunt, capture, take charge of, and maintain discipline and order over all ghosts.
In later folklore, beginning around the eighth century, the tale unfolds with Emperor Xuanzong 玄宗 (Jp: Gensô, 685-762) had the degree and title "Doctor of Zhongnanshan" (Jp: Shûnanzan-no-Shinshi 終南山の進士) posthumously bestowed on Zhong Kui. In return, the ghost of Zhong Kui appeared to Xuanzong in a dream and promised to protect the empire from evil demons. Further embellishment recounted the tale of the Emperor Xuanzong becoming gravely ill. In a dream he saw two ghosts in which the smaller one stole a purse from imperial consort Yang Guifei and a flute belonging to the emperor. The larger ghost, wearing the hat of a court official (or scholar's hat), captured the smaller ghost, tore out his eye, and ate it. Introducing himself as Zhong Kui, he said that he had sworn to rid the empire of evil. When the emperor awoke, he had recovered from his illness. So he commissioned the court painter Wu Daozi to produce an image of Zhong Kui to show to the officials. This portrait became highly influential in later representations of Zhong Kui. During the Edo period, people began to hang images of Shôki outside their houses to ward off evil spirits during the Boys' Day Festival (Tango no Sekku 端午の節句).
Mori used the format of a hanging scroll (kakemono 掛物 or kakejiku 掛軸) for his portrait of Shôki the Demon Queller. Within the narrow confines of the paper, Shôki's massive form fills the sheet. His godly strength is on display here through the intensity of his grip on the oni, the bulging muscles of his right arm, and the animated drawing of his robes and scholar's hat.
We are pleased to be able to offer this large print, for although this design is from an edition of 70, it is surprisingly difficult to find for acquisition.
- Abe Setsuko, et al., Mori Yoshitoshi Kappa-ban (Stencil prints of Mori Yoshitoshi: 合羽版森義利), Exhibition catalog, Ginza Matsuzukaya and National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden, Netherlands, 1985.