Shiko Munakata

(Aomori City, 1903 - 1975, Tokyo)
The early years~
Born in Aomori City on September 5th 1903, Shiko was the third son of a black-
smith, Kokichi, and his wife Sada. Shiko entered Nagashima Elementary School in
April of 1910. By about the third grade he began to develop an interest in kite art and
drew kite pictures for his classmates. On one occasion in sixth grade while running
to see an airplane make a crash landing in a rice field, he happened to fall at the edge
of a brook. Right in front of him was a white blossom of "Omodaka" and he was struck
by its beauty.
After finishing elementary school Shiko joined his elder brother at their father's
blacksmith business. At the age of 17 he was employed by the city court and took
advantage of his new schedule to visit Gappo Park in the early morning and practise
sketching. It was around this time, also, that he was deeply impressed by a reproduc-
tion of Van Gogh's “Sunflowers”, given to him by his teacher, Tadaaki Ono.
Tokyo and his art studies~
In 1924, at the age of 21, Shiko made up his mind and went to Tokyo. While
scratching a living by repairing shoes and selling "natto", he continued to study art. In
October 1928, after five years in Tokyo, he had his first picture, an oil painting called
“Zatsuen”accepted for the 9th Imperial Exhibition.
A change of direction-the woodblock print~
Shiko's interest in woodblock print art began even before his oil painting “Zatsuen”
was accepted for the exhibition. Moved by Sumio Kawakami's “Hatsunatsu no
kaze”,Shiko began his studies of the medium by visiting Un'ichi Hiratuka, who had
been introduced to him by Kihachiro Shimozawa, a friend from Shiko's hometown.
In 1929, four of Shiko's woodblock works were accepted for the Shunyokai
Exhibition and in the following year all four pieces he submitted were accepted for
the Kokugakai Exhibition. This convinced Shiko to focus on woodblock print art.
In April 1936, his woodblock series “Yamato-shi Uruwashi”was displayed in the
Kokugakai Exhibition and subsequently purchased by the Japan Folk Art Museum,
which earned Shiko the acknowedgement of Muneyoshi Yanagi,Kanjiro Kawai and
Shoji Hamada.
International acclaim comes to Shiko Munakata~
In April 1952, Shiko's work was awarded a special prize for excellence at the 2nd
International Woodblock Print Exhibition held in Lugano, Switzerland. Entering
works such as “Shaka Judai Deshi”Shiko took the top prize in July 1955 in San Paulo
Biennial. The following June he received the International Woodblock Print Award
at the Venice Biennial for works like “Ryuryoku Kakosho”,thus firmly establishing
himself as a world class artist.
Traveling overseas in 1959, Shiko lectured at various American universities. While
in Europe he visited Van Gogh's grave.
The artist and his hometown~
Shiko Munakata felt an unusually strong love for his hometown. His heart was
captured not only by the kite art and nebuta paintings,but also by the scenery and
customs of the area. He offered the following words of encouragement to local
youngsters,“Set your sights pure and high and step out into the wide world of your
dreams and hopes”. These words are engraved on a stone monument in Gappo park.
On February 17th 1969, Shiko Munakata was named the first Honorary Citizen by
the City of Aomori and in November of the following year was the first person from
Aomori Prefecture to receive the Order of Cultural Merits from the national government.
On September 13th 1975, at the age of 72, Shiko Munakata passed away in Tokyo.
His grave, known as “Seiminhi,”is located in Aomori's Sannai Cemetery and is
fashioned after Van Gogh's.
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