KOSHIRO ONCHI, father of the sōsaku-hanga movement


“Art is not to be understood by the mind but by the heart. If we go back to its origin, painting is expressed in color and form by the heart, and it should never be limited to a world of reflected forms captured by visual sense. Therefore, expression of the heart through color and forms separated from color and form in the real world is that true realm of painting. I will for the time call this type of work the ‘lyrique’.” -Koshiro Onchi

Kōshirō Onchi , 2 July 1891 – 3 June 1955 was born in Tokyo, was a Japanese print-maker. He was the father of the sōsaku-hanga movement in twentieth century Japan, and a photographer.

Onchi came from an aristocratic family that had close connections with the imperial family. As a child, he received the same kind of education that a prince received. Onchi was trained in both traditional calligraphy and modern western art. After contacts with Takehisa Yumeji in 1909 between 1910 and 1915, he studied oil painting and sculpture at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts. In 1912, he founded the print and poetry magazine called “Tsukubae”.

Kosher was drawn to the Sōsaku-hanga (創作版画 “creative prints”)  movement, which stressed the artist as the sole creator motivated by a desire for self-expression, and advocated principles of art that is “self-drawn” (自画 jiga), “self-carved” (自刻 jikoku) and “self-printed” (自刷 jizuri). As opposed to the shin-hanga (“new prints”) movement that maintained the traditional ukiyo-e collaborative system where the artist, carver, printer, and publisher engaged in division of labor, creative print artists distinguished themselves as artists creating art for art’s sake.

Onchi was also a book designer in the early days when it was impossible for sōsaku-hanga artists to survive by just doing creative prints. He designed over 1000 books in his career. In 1939, he founded the First Thursday Society (一木会Ichimokukai), which was crucial to the postwar revival of the sōsaku-hanga movement.  After the war, he emerged as the leader of the sōsaku-hanga movement that flourished in the international art scene.

Onchi’s prints range from early representational to postwar abstract prints.  He believed that artistic creation originates from the self and was more interested in expressing subjective emotions through abstract prints than in replicating images and forms in the objective world.

Onchi was also interested in photography. Through the 1930s and 1940s, Onchi worked in the spirit of shinkō shashin. He worked on plants, animals and objets, and also created photograms.

Onchi exhibited his photograms in 1951 but otherwise dropped out of photography. He died in Tokyo on 3 June 1955



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