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Biography: MORI Yoshitoshi (森義利)

photo of Mori Yoshitoshi making a kappazuri-e
Mori brushing pigment through a
stencil for his print "Child Emperor
Antoku Fleeing from Kyoto," 1973
 

 

Mori Yoshitoshi signatureMori 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 pivotal incident took place 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. When in 1960 he signed an exclusive two-year contract for solo exhibitions at the Nihonbashi Gallery in Tokyo, he finally rid himself of any doubts and considered himself a printmaker.

Mori Yoshitoshi woman gamblerMori 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, women, 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.

A favorite subject of Mori Yoshitoshi is that of young women, what in ukiyo-e and shin hanga were called bijinga (prints of beautiful women: 美人画). He took his inspiration from historical tales (Genji monogatariHeike monogatari, kabuki, folktales, and so on) as well as from contemporary models. Among the latter, he had a fascination with women going about their everyday activities, as well as women who have shed traditional roles in favor of more modern personalities. An example of the last type is shown on the right, a bold, scandalous, tattooed woman gambler. The pose is standard Mori — contorted, confident, challenging.

Mori Yoshitoshi assimilated diverse elements from stencil printing techniques used in centuries-old textile dyeing, historical, folkloric, religious and modern-day imagery, and traditional festivals, dances and theater. By adapting these sources of inspiration, he developed an innovative approach to print design. Mori's best works are bold, rhythmical, lively, expressive, humorous, and memorable.

Throughout his printmaking career, Mori had numerous solo shows in museums and galleries in Japan and internationally. His awards included receiving a prize at the First International Exhibition of Prints in Barcelona in 1969. He was given a Silver Medal with Blue Ribbon by Prime Minister Miki Takeo in 1976 for the donation of his Tale of the Heike series (34 prints, 1971-1973) to the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo (the award is given by the Japanese government to individuals who have made significant achievements in the areas of public welfare or public service). Mori also received an honorary PhD from the University of Maryland in 1984.

Mori's works are in numerous private collections and in public institutions, including the Art Institute of Chicago; Barcelona Art Museum; Berlin National Museum; British Museum, London; Cincinnati Art Museum; Detroit Institute of Art; Fine Art Museums of San Francisco; Honolulu Museum of Art; Japan Folk Art Museum, Tokyo; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Machida City Museum of Graphic Arts, Tokyo; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; and the Portland Art Museum, Oregon.

The text provided here is based in large part on John Fiorillo's web page:
https://viewingjapaneseprints.net/texts/sosaku_hanga/mori_yoshitoshi.html

Also see the following page for more about Mori and the kappazuri method of printmaking:
https://viewingjapaneseprints.net/texts/topics_faq/stencil.html