Born in 1911 (Ehime prefecture), Nakao Yoshitaka (中尾義隆 1911-1994) was mostly self-taught as a printmaker, although he did work briefly with Azechi Umetarô (畦地梅太郎 1902-1999). Nakao won awards at Kokugakai (National Picture Association: orig. 1918; changed name from Kokuga Sôsaku Kyôkai in 1928) exhibitions in 1949 and 1956 (where earlier he had exhibited an oil painting in 1940). He joined the Nihon Hanga Kyôkai (Japan Print Association, 日本版画協会 est. 1931) in 1948 and the Kokugakai in 1960. He also contributed designs in 1946 and 1949 to the Ichimokushû (First Thursday Collection: 一木集), six portfolios of prints designed by members of the Ichimokukai (First Thursday Society: 一木会) headed by the leading sôsaku hanga artist, Onchi Kôshirô (恩地孝四郎 1891-1955). The Graphic Society of New York published Nakao's prints on three occasions in the 1960s. Nakao created cement-blocks for many of his prints, using a method he developed that involved pouring wet cement into hand-made wooden frames and scoring into the cement as it dried. Nakao's use of cement-paste blocks precedes that of the better known Maki Haku, 巻白 1924-2000. Nakao also used conventional woodblocks, often incorporating oil-based pigments to achieve results similar to his cement-paste prints.
Nakao's large woodblock and cement-paste print from 1957 of a standing monolithic figure wrapping his arms around his head and chest has been reproduced in several books, among them Michener's Japanese Prints from the Early Masters to the Modern (no. 246) and Kawakita, Contemporary Japanese Prints (no. 85). Among public institutions, Nakao's works are included in the collections of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria; Art Institute of Chicago; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburg (James Austin Collection); Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (Achenbach Foundation of Graphic Arts); and National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.
This print is especially notable for two reasons. First, the cement-block application of opaque white pigment is so thick that it sits high on the paper surface, giving the print a true three-dimensional aspect. (The rich blue background also provides a strong contrast.) Second, the humor of the portrayal is wonderfully fresh. Art is often a rather serious business, but here Nakao is having fun. No need to show the gambler's face. Why not, instead, bury the fellow's head in the racing form, as he would have done in real life? Playful, too, are the small punctuations of red on the racing form and a single dot (a ruby?) on the ring finger of the left hand. All told, this is a fine work by an artist who deserves more attention among collectors and curators.
- Kawakita, Michiaki: Contemporary Japanese Prints. Tokyo/New York: Kodansha, 1967, no. 85.
- James Michener: Japanese Prints from the Early Masters to the Modern. Rutland, VT: Tuttle, 1959, no. 246.
- Helen Merritt & Nanako Yamada: Guide to Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints 1900-1975. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1992, p. 106.
- Zehnder, Modern Japanese Prints — The Twentieth Century. Pittsburg: Carnegie Museum Art, 2009, p. 130.