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Kawakami is the one of the greatest artist of Japanese woodblock-print after Edo: his color-woodcut print of 1929, << Early Summer>> is said to be a masterpiece, by which Shiko MUNAKATA decided to be a print artist.
He was born in 1895 in Yokohama, famous city as an enclave for foreigners after the Treaty of Kanagawa of 1854. Japan, who’d closed their ports for hundreds years, started to accept Western diplomats and merchants. It brought a new genre to woodblock-print (=Ukiyoe) ‘Yokohama-e’, prints depicting the foreigners and Western technical achievements like iron boats or locomotives. At the age of twenty-two, he went and stayed in US and Canada for two years. On his return, he became an English teacher in a public school of Tochigi. The printmaking activities of Kawakami started after his return from North America. He became a member of several print associations and exhibited with these groups regularly. The artist created single sheet prints and 33 limited edition books - mostly self-carved and self-printed. His style is sometimes ironical and humorous. Many print subjects deal with the impact of foreigners on the Japanese culture.. On the other hand, his works had developed into varied subjects along his life: ex, Ainu (aboriginal people in Hokkaido, northern part of Japan, where he evacuated during WWII) or some foreign fables like Aesop, Grimm. Though it was in 1960’s that Sumio Kawakami finally gained late recognition, in 1974 and 1975 several large retrospective exhibitions were held and in 1992, the <<Kawakami Sumio Print Museum>> opened in Tochigi, which displays solely the works of him.