Masaji Yoshida

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Masaji Yoshida (吉田政次, Japan, 1917-1971) was one of Kōshirō Onchi’s most prominent students and one of the founders of the sōsaku hanga movement. He is known for his subdued and sophisticated color pallete in his abstract and reduced landscape prints.

Masaji Yoshida was born in Wakayama, Japan but moved to Tokyo in his early adult years. Yoshida studied drawing and painting at a private preparatory school and later entered the government art academy at Ueno. Yoshida picked up printmaking and learned techniques of sōsaku hanga from his instructor Hiratsuka Un’ichi (1895-1997). In 1942, he graduated from Ueno but was drafted into the army that same year. He spent the next year in China as a warrant officer and later as a sub-lieutenant. Yoshida was seriously wounded in action, hospitalized for six months, and held prisoner for more than half a year with his unit before returning to Japan. While a prisoner of war, Yoshida spent his time sketching. He would often exchange his drawings for food. In 1946, Yoshida was repatriated and moved back home. He attended the Tokyo School of Fine Arts two years later to complete his postgraduate work. He studied under sōsaku hanga founder Kōshirō Onchi (1891-1955) and developed an interest in creating abstract work, admittedly as a result of the war. Yoshida was also influenced by the work of Fumio Kitaoka (1918-2007) who was also a student of Kōshirō Onchi. Yoshida worked as a painting and printmaking teacher during and after his postgraduate education. He also worked as a professional printmaker and practiced the sōsaku hanga method of drawing, carving, and printing all of his work.

Yoshida explored various techniques and methods for creating abstract designs. He cut multiple blocks from a single board and rearranged the shapes to create an interesting composition. He is known for printing shades of grey on top of color to create depth and value over shapes and other colors. Yoshida also applied ink to dampened paper to create soft edges and a blotted effect to the surface. His prints have been popularized because of his harmonious blend of soft, subdued, and muted colors in each design. Yoshida primarily used muted reds and blues as his chosen primary colors. Scholars and enthusiasts of Yoshida attribute the artist’s choice of color, shape, and composition as an emotional response of the artist. Yoshida also approached each design using traditional Japanese Zen aesthetic and practice. His use of large and minimal space demonstrates a sense of serenity and allusion to nature. Some of Yoshida’s prints resemble landscapes and gardens, broken down to reduced forms and close-up or cropped compositions. Yoshida’s designs, ascribed by the artist himself, were in response to his desire to find peace and stillness after the chaos of war. Yoshida’s distinct style and oeuvre sets him apart from other sōsaku hanga artists. The titles to each of Yoshida’s prints gave insight on what the print was in response to or depicting, the same method created by his teacher Kōshirō Onchi. Titles include Infinity, Ancient, Space, Fountain of Earth, and Peace Evening, for example.

Japanese print collector and scholar Oliver Statler included Yoshida in his book Modern Japanese Prints: An Art Reborn, published by the Charles E. Tuttle Company in 1956. Art historian Lawrence Smith also included Yoshida in his book Modern Japanese Prints 1912-1989, published by the British Museum Press in 1994. Masaji Yoshida’s work is included in numerous collections and major museums worldwide including the Dallas Museum of Art, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., Harvard University Art Museum, Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Wakayama Prefectural Museum of Modern Art, among others.