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Bright abstract print featuring a geometric background in cream, black, and gray with semitransparent shapes superimposed upon it: two blue blobs, a red-brown oblong shape, and a prominent yellow rounded shape with three nearly circular holes in it. Bright abstract print featuring a geometric background in cream, black, and gray with semitransparent shapes superimposed upon it: two blue blobs, a red-brown oblong shape, and a prominent yellow rounded shape with three nearly circular holes in it.

Onchi Kōshirō: Affection for Shapeless Things

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Onchi Kōshirō is emblematic of the midcentury sōsaku hanga, or creative print, movement in Japan as one of its major artists and its main advocate.

Artists of this self-defined group proudly conceived, carved, and printed their own works. They did not feel that the traditional ukiyo-e method, in which the tasks of designing, carving, and printing were separated among specialists, allowed for true creative expression. Onchi, who often cited Kandinsky and Munch as his major influences, was decidedly Western-oriented in terms of style. He explained that printmaking is the best way to create abstract art, since it is the most removed from the artist’s hand or brush and requires precision and forethought in construction and composition. In addition to wood, Onchi used wax paper, cardboard, string, and other found materials as his printing blocks.

It was common for Onchi to produce very few prints—often only a single edition of each of the abstract works that were the major output of his last 10 years. Very few of his works remain in private hands, and in terms of museums, the Art Institute of Chicago is one of only a few with significant holdings, thanks to gifts from key donors. Oliver Statler, an army employee in Japan during the Occupation, was a great friend of Onchi’s and proponent of the sōsaku hanga movement. He gave a large portion of his personal collection to the Art Institute and was also the intermediary in sales of his works to local collectors. In turn, these collectors gave their Japanese modern prints to the museum, including many of the works on display in this exhibition.

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