Kawanishi Hide (川西英), 1894-1965, was born and worked in Kobe, an international port city that inspired much of his subject matter. He was employed as a postmaster, but his ancestors were merchants, particularly traders in the alcoholic spirits sake (酒 or nihonshu 日本酒), mirin (味醂), and shôchû (焼酎), which they transported to Tokyo in their fleet of ships.
Kawanishi's family opposed his becoming involved in painting and printmaking. A self-taught artist, Kawanishi started painting in oils, but turned to woodblock printmaking after seeing a print by Yamamoto Kanae (A small bay in Brittany) displayed in a shop window in Osaka. He was not interested in ukiyo-e, although Nagasaki-e fascinated him, with its exotic ships and foreign traders. Gradually abandoning oils, Kawanishi fell under the influence of the Art Deco poster style of the 1920s and first exhibited prints in 1923 with the Nihon Sôsaku-Hanga Kyôkai (Japan Creative Print Association 日本創作版画協会 founded 1918). Other influences were Onchi Kôshirô, Yamamoto, and European artists such as Lautrec, Gaugin, Van Gogh, Leger, and Matisse.
Kawanishi used poster colors and sumi, cutting his blocks with a curved chisel to obtain soft edges. He used katsura or ho wood, and printed on hodomura paper. He produced a large number of single-sheet designs (possibly as many as 1,000), as well as printed albums and books, and sets or series. The latter included Shôwa bijin fûzoku jûnitai (Twelve customs of beauties from the Shôwa era), 1929; Kobe jûnigagetsu fûkei (Scenes of Kobe during the twelve months), 1931; and Hanga Kobe hyakkei (Prints of one hundred views of Kobe), 1935. Kawanishi was awarded the Hyôgo Prefecture Culture Prize (1949) and the Kobe Shinbun Peace Prize (1962). His son Kawanishi Yûzaburô (b. 1923) works in his father's style, but with more international subjects.
Here we have another of Kawanishi's favored scenes of Kobe Harbor. After the Second World War his designs took a slight turn toward abstraction, dispensing with waves or identifiable waterfront or hillside landmarks. Buildings and ships tended to blend even more than before, and no well-known structures appear in the views. Still, his beloved pilot boat remains in the forefront. Note the "straight-out-of-the-tube" intensity of the poster colors, with no gradations, and the simplification of forms — all hallmarks of the artist's printmaking style.
The vast majority of Kawanishi's scenes of Kobe Harbor are in small to medium-format size. Our example is a large double ôban.
References: Fiorillo, Kawanishi web page