Akira Kurosaki

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About this artist

Born 1937 in Dalian, Manchuria, Kurosaki attended Kyoto Institute of Technology. Inspired by traditional “nishiki-e” (ukiyo-e) prints, he started to produce woodblock prints in 1965. In 1967, Kurosaki received the Newcomer Award of the Kokugakai Association. He won the 3rd Prize of the 14th Shell Art Award of 1970 and the Prize of the Minister of Education at the Tokyo International Print Biennale. Kurosaki’s reputation further rose when he was awarded at the 3rd Krakow International Print Biennale and his works were acquired by the Warsaw National Museum of Art.
Using with a distinctive black tone as a base for his multi-colored prints, Kurosaki’s work has been recognized internationally, allowing him not only to exhibit in Europe and the United States, but also in China and South Korea. Kurosaki has furthermore authored a variety of books on printmaking, and holds an appointment as a professor at Kyoto Seika University.
Passed away May 2019. http://www.tokinowasuremono.com/e/artist-b50-kurosaki/index.html

Kurosaki was born in Dalian, Manchuria in 1937, when Manchuria was under Japanese rule.
His parents brought him to Kobe a year later, as war began in earnest. His father recognized Kurosaki’s interest and talent in art during his junior high years, and placed him in the atelier of oil painter, Itō Tsuguro, where he came under the wing of two future heroes of the Gutai movement, Shiraga Kazuo and Murakami Saburō. Kurosaki was too young to join the Gutai group when it split off from the atelier in 1954.
Kurosaki’s father would not allow him to specialize in art at university, so he received a degree in graphic design at Kyoto Institute of Technology. To learn about Japanese art, ukiyo-e prints in particular, he spent time in museums and galleries in Kyoto and taught himself printmaking, of which he became an instructor after graduation. His first solo print show was in Osaka in 1966, and his second at the famous print gallery Yoseido in Ginza, Tokyo, in 1968, a gauge of his rapid progression.
In 1970, Kurosaki met professional printer Uchiyama Sohei, and as they began to collaborate a few years later, Kurosaki’s career took off. Kurosaki’s first major series, titled “The Holy Night”, will be represented in LACMA’s collection thanks to a coming promised gift from the family of Mas Yonemura. The red and black of his prints evoke the strong tones of early Meiji era (1868-1912) ukiyo-e by the likes of Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892), and by Japanese folk art, both noted as personal inspirations by Kurosaki. Architectural motifs sprang from his teaching architectural drafting, and incorporating its lessons on perspective and illusion. In the “Red Darkness” series (M.79.176.28) of 1971, Kurosaki produced works that he printed seventy or eighty times each. He had used acrylic medium in earlier prints, but now turned to oil pigments for richer colors. This series brought him a number of awards, including from the Japanese government’s Ministry of Education.
Following the laborious printing of the “Red Darkness” series, Kurosaki began to depend upon the woodblock printer, Uchiyama. With Uchiyama’s printing of his next series, “Closed Room” (TR.18578.1), Kurosaki and he improved the sharpness of edges and radiance of colors. Kurosaki felt that at last his work approached the quality of ukiyo-e. He continued to work with Uchiyama until 1993.
In his 1973 series, “Secret Codes”, Kurosaki incorporates silkscreen to produce sharper and crisper lines. (TR.18578.2-.3) Kurosaki’s 1975 “AMERICA” series followed an Agency for Cultural Affairs grant for travel to this country and northern Europe. Here he incorporates photographic printing techniques for the first time, and evokes a true feeling of the youth culture of the United States in the mid-1970s. (TR.18578.4-.5) In Kurosaki’s 1976 series “Forbidden Lovers”, he includes floating body parts that become a staple motif over the next several years, and in his 1977 series “Camouflaged Worlds” (AC1995.141.13) he combines geometric and symbolic imagery. The latter series garnered an acquisition prize at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Strong effects of gradation and pulsating colors flow through his two individual works, Floating Form of 1977 (TR.18578.8), and Eve Appearing of 1979 (TR.18578.9), the latter of which exploits silkscreen to maximum effect.
Following a trip to China in 1979, Kurosaki produced a series called “China (中国)” which will also come to LACMA from the Mas Yonemura collection. Like images in that portfolio, his “Traces” series of 1981 (M.2005.217.23) incorporates brushstroke-like forms suggestive of calligraphy, adding illusionistic water drops. This creates an effect of three-dimensional forms against a two-dimensional ground. He maximized this approach in his 1984 series “Between Moments” (TR.18578.10) by opening visual windows in the composition.
Up to 1980, Kurosaki had always used high quality handmade Japanese Echizen torinoko washi (Japanese paper). That year he visited Korea and made the acquaintance of the president of the handmade paper association, Kim Yeong-yeon, who arranged for Kurosaki to visit papermaking sites throughout Korea. Kurosaki enjoyed the rustic, simple strength of Korean paper, which he introduced to artists in Japan. Inspired by his visit, Kurosaki used Korean paper in paintings and constructions, and befriended craftspeople in the traditional papermaking town of Echizen, with whose cooperation he was able to make paper to suit his exact needs. Kurosaki became convinced that he could not teach printmaking effectively without a papermaking facility in the lab. He created a program that featured both print and papermaking techniques at Kyoto Seika University in 1987. In the prior years, there had been a papermaking boom worldwide, its high point being at an international symposium held in Kyoto in 1983, organized in part by Kurosaki, whose intent was to introduce artists worldwide to both Western and Japanese papermaking techniques. In the late 1980s up until 1990, Kurosaki gave the majority of his attention to making three-dimensional paper works.
The few prints that he created in the late 1980s and early 1990s, including Shadow Flower
(TR.18578.11)—which received an award at the 11th International Biennial Exhibition of
Woodcuts in Slovenia—and Ōji Paper Museum, Tokyo (TR.18578.12), from a portfolio of “100 View Points of Tokyo”, vol. 4, introduce complex textures along with elements from nature and geometry.
In 1992, Kurosaki spent three months in Oslo at the behest of the Munch Foundation, studying the prints of Edvard Munch and Paul Gauguin, taking inspiration from Munch’s imagination and Gauguin’s spiritualism. A succession of prints dated 1993 and 1994 (TR.18578.13-.17) are among the strongest of Kurosaki’s entire oeuvre. He stopped making collaborative prints in 1993, and thereafter printed on thin Korean mulberry paper, incorporating his new technique of applying color directly on the paper, learned through his experiments with washi. The first of many trips to Bulgaria in the mid-1990s, and sightseeing in Thrace inspired the imagery. At Thrace, Kurosaki saw the extreme weathering of ancient stone ruins and sensed time’s passage. He endeavored to impart this feeling through these prints. Seeing the wind-whipped snow on the grasslands of Bulgaria, which are at the western edge of nomadic territory, Kurosaki assembled his “Nomads Series” (TR.18578.23) of 2002. It was his first use of white pigment rather than blank paper to denote the white of snow.
With the “Gaea” series of 1995 and 1996, Kurosaki assimilates the Korean paper quality into his prints, whose texture maintains a presence equivalent to the giant forms that he presents. (TR.18578.18-.21). Non-serial prints from the 1990s carry the same powerful shapes and concentration on textures in deep, dusky tones. (TR.18578.22, and related prints .26-.28)
Through the 1990s and 2000s, Kurosaki would occasionally create modernized versions of ukiyo-e prints in series with traditional themes such as famous places or seasonal flowers. Two prints of flower viewing in Nara show famous sights at two temples (TR.18578.23-.24) with camellias and cosmos, the latter a flower not traditionally depicted. After retiring from teaching in 2005, Kurosaki’s final two series were on the centuries-old theme in paintings and prints,
“The Eight Views of Ōmi”—featuring renowned scenery around the southern edge of Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest lake, (TR.18578.29-.36)—and on Japan’s oldest poetic anthology from the eighth century, the Man’yōshū (TR.18578.37-.45). It was to the Lake Biwa area that Kurosaki’s family evacuated during the Pacific War to escape the American firebombing of Kobe. Near Kurosaki’s elementary school, a number of places bore the names of the famous views. From these formative years, Kurosaki retained the memory of the lake’s saturated colors in various seasons. These series are particular in his use of strong black and white textures in dynamic forms against rich tones.
[Hollis Goodall 2020]