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Shinagawa Takumi (1908-2009)

Biographical Data


Shinagawa Takumi 品川工 (1908-2009)

Sources: Contemporary Japanese Prints, Kawakita Michiaki, Kodansha International Ltd., 1967, p. 185; Japanese Wood-block Prints, Shizuya Fujikake, Japan Travel Bureau, 1938, p. 166-167; Modern Japanese Prints: 1912-1989, Lawrence Smith, British Museum Press, 1994, p. 60; Modern Japanese Prints: An Art Reborn, Oliver Statler, Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1956, p. 71-75 and as footnoted.

 undated photo of artist
Born in Niigata Prefecture in 1908, Shinagawa Takumi passed away in 2009.  He created prints into his final year, contributing two prints to the 2009 College Women’s Association of Japan (CWAJ) 54th Print Show. (See photos below.)

In 1928, he graduated from the Tokyo Prefectural College of Industrial Art (Tokyo Furitsu Kogei Gakko) in Tsukiji, Tokyo after studying metalwork and handicrafts.  At a friend’s suggestion he showed some of his work, including a woodblock print, to Onchi Koshiro (1891-1955) and received Onchi’s encouragement.  Subsequently he studied under Onchi, joined Onchi's Ichimoku-kai (First Thursday Society) and was to become "Onchi's right-hand man."1  An exhibition of his prints, mobiles and photographic works in 1945 brought him public recognition.  Joining the Nippon Hanga Kyokai, he exhibited his color prints at the 1947 and 1948 Kokuga Kai Exhibitions, further enhancing his reputation.  He exhibited
work at the Tokyo International Print Biennale in ’57, ’60, and ’62, almost continually at the CWAJ print shows since its first show in 1956 and at a number of international exhibitions.  He also taught print arts, two of his students being the hanga artists Iwami Reika (b. 1927) and Rei Yuki (1928-2003), and lectured at the Women's Junior College of Fine Arts, Tokyo.

While Shinagawa worked in many medias, including metal (creating numerous mobiles2) and photography, he is perhaps best known for his prints.   He created both monocolor and multi-color prints and his style gradually moved from representational to abstraction.  His mid-career abstract work is likened to Onchi's abstract work with its simplification of forms.  His later works are mainly silkscreens rather than wood blocks.
Nude, 1949
woodblock print

Forms (Katachi)
From the print folio
Ichimoku-shu Vol. 6,
woodblock print
Haiyû (Kabuki Actor)
woodblock print

The Frightening Never-Nevers
(also known as Ghost Story)
woodblock print

Tangle of Color, 2005  silkscreen

CWAJ 2009 Print Entries and Memorial Photo
Source: 54th CWAJ Print Show, Japanese Contemporary Prints 2009, p. 75, 104.

Scrum, 2009
silkscreen 20.1 x 26.8 in. (51 x 68 cm)
undated photo of artist
Form フォルム, 2007
silkscreen 16.5 x 13.4 in. (42 x 34 cm)

The Artist's Work

Source: Modern Japanese Prints: An Art Reborn, Oliver Statler, Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1956, p. 71-75.

Creating Works Unique to the Medium

Citing Picasso's use of "the unique qualities of the lithographic process to create something which could not have been done in any other medium," Shinagawa believed creative print artists should not attempt merely to reproduce images but to make individual and original woodblock prints of the highest quality, works that could not have been made in any other medium.

Connection to Ukiyo-e

Statler states that Shinagawa “is attempting to realize in the modern idiom the essence of traditional ukiyoe as a woodprint.   He is trying to give modern expression to what he considers the basic fundamentals of the woodprint, the qualities of line and color which are unique to the use of wood…”

The artist comments: “When I was beginning to make woodprints, I got hold of a fragment of ukiyoe.  The more I studied it the more I was struck by the depth of color in that print.  When I held it up against the light it looked like stained glass. I realized then that a good print is much more than color laid on paper.  The paint has to go into the paper, to become part of the paper.  Often the pigments should be mixed in the paper: by applying one over another to get a living, glowing color deep in the paper.”

Modern Japanese Prints

“Nobody in my house wears kimono,” he says.  “It would be ridiculous for me to make pictures of kimonoed beauties.  Japanese art can’t stay aloof from world currents, but that doesn’t make a Japanese artist any less Japanese.  And I certainly don’t agree that, in becoming universal, Japanese art has been downgraded."


In his abstract prints Shinagawa has developed another way of creating a line.  For example, he will print red on top of yellow.  Where he has cut away the red block, a line of yellow remains.

“Let me explain it this way,” Shinagawa says.  “If I draw or visualize a line on a block and then cut away the wood on both side to leave that line, I feel that I am merely reproducing a line I previously created.  But if I take my chisel and gouge out the line, I feel that my hand and my mind are working together in an act of creation, the same way as a painter with a brush.  It’s an entirely different kind of feeling, spontaneous and free.”

Like Onchi, Shinagawa has experimented widely with paper blocks, and many of his prints are made with paper blocks or a combination of wood and paper blocks.  He is particularly interested in the textural effects he can obtain by making blocks from different papers.  For example, a paper of uneven thickness will give a mottled effect.  In printing from paper blocks Shinagawa usually fastens the blocks to a board and prints the same way he would from a wood block, using a kento [registration mark] on the board.  If he wants a lighter effect he may lay the print on its back, place the paper block on top, and print with a thin paper between the block and his baren.

Shinagawa usually limits his editions to about twenty, but in printing from paper blocks he can make only four prints at a time because the blocks swell so rapidly and must be put away to dry before they can be used again.  Of course the same problem is common to wood blocks but to a much lesser degree: a printer can get about two hundred impressions from sakura blocks before the swelling destroys the registry.

For his woodblocks he uses plywood, faced with shina for his shallow-cut monocolor prints and with rawan when he is cutting bold masses. 

He prints on torinoko paper.  Often he gives it additional thickness by pasting a sheet of thin, tough tissue on the back.  He sizes his own paper.


Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Los Angeles County Museum of Modern Art; Harvard Art Museum/Arthur M. Sackler Museum; Art Gallery of Greater Victoria; Art Gallery of New South Wales; Carnegie Museum of Art; Art Institute of Chicago; National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; National Museum of Modern Art, Osaka; The British Museum; Brooklyn Museum; Oxford Museum, England

Japanese Prints During the Allied Occupation 1945-1952, Lawrence Smith, British Museum Press, 2003, p. 35.
2 In 1970 Shinagawa authored the book Charm in Motion: A Collection of Mobiles, Japan Publications, Inc. which is a "how-to" book on mobile construction.