Fumio Kitaoka, Japanese (1918 - 2007)

Fumio Kitaoka

Fumio Kitaoka was born in Tokyo. At the Tokyo School of Fine Arts, where he was admitted in 1937, Fumio Kitaoka studied (Western) oil painting with Takeji Fujishima and moku-hanga with Hiratsuka Un'ichi. After the war he was further influenced by Kôshirô Onchi and his Ichimokukai - First Thursday Society.

Kitaoka Fumio (北岡文雄) studied woodblock printing at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts with Un'ichi Hiratsuka, one of the principal figures in the sosaku hanga movement. Kitaoka later became one of the many disciples of the seminal figure in abstract and experimental print design, Kôshirô Onchi.

Early in his career Kitaoka worked in wood engraving, which he learned at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, Paris. Engraving involves cutting with graver tools against the end grain in contrast to the Japanese method of cutting with the grain. The contour lines are "engraved" or cut into (below) the surface, so that the effect is one of white lines on a dark background — in contrast to the Japanese method of cutting the wood away from the lines and leaving them in relief above the surface.

The end-grain technique gave Kitaoka's early works a European flavor, although the subjects were Japanese. Later, he began working in a more decorative style as he produced picturesque views of landscapes and rural scenes, often brightly colored with thickly applied pigments.

Kitaoka's composition does not have a single perspective for the receding space, but rather blends multiple perspectives as the point of view shifts across the image. The quality of the engraving is reminiscent of European-style end-grain engraving (see the detail on the left). The result is bold with a sculptural or chiseled effect, a successful homage to Nagayo as an important literary and social figure in Japan.

In 1955-1956 he studied wood engraving in France. He is one of the more important post-war Sôsaku Hanga artists. He had many solo exhibitions and participated in international biennales. To quote Helen Merritt: "After passing through realistic and abstract stages, Kitaoka's mature style embraces both realistic representation and abstraction in carefully designed and often brightly colored landscapes".

He died of pneumonia on April 23 2007


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