Born in 1911 (Ehime prefecture), Nakao Yoshitaka (中尾義隆 1911-1994) was mostly self-taught as a printmaker, although he did work briefly with Azechi Umetarô (畦地梅太郎 1902-1999). Nakao won awards at Kokugakai (National Picture Association: orig. 1918; changed name from Kokuga Sôsaku Kyôkai in 1928) exhibitions in 1949 and 1956 (where earlier he had exhibited an oil painting in 1940). He joined the Nihon Hanga Kyôkai (Japan Print Association, 日本版画協会 est. 1931) in 1948 and the Kokugakai in 1960. He also contributed designs in 1946 and 1949 to the Ichimokushû (First Thursday Collection: 一木集), six portfolios of prints designed by members of the Ichimokukai (First Thursday Society: 一木会) headed by the leading sôsaku hanga artist, Onchi Kôshirô (恩地孝四郎 1891-1955). The Graphic Society of New York published Nagao's prints on three occasions in the 1960s. Nakao created cement-blocks for many of his prints, using a method he developed that involved pouring wet cement into hand-made wooden frames and scoring into the cement as it dried. Nakao's use of cement-paste blocks precedes that of the better known Maki Haku, 巻白 1924-2000. Nakao also used conventional woodblocks, often incorporating oil-based pigments to achieve results similar to his cement-paste prints, which is the case with Nakao's print of Mt. Aso on offer here.
Mount Aso (阿蘇山, Aso-san) is the largest active volcano in Japan and one of the biggest in the world. The central core of the Aso caldera (the cauldron-like hollow that forms shortly after the emptying of a magma chamber or reservoir in a volcanic eruption) consists of five peaks: Mt. Neko, Mt. Taka, Mt. Naka (also called Nakadake), Mt. Eboshi, and Mt. Kishima. The crater of Mt. Naka, the west side of which is accessible by road, contains an active volcano which continuously emits smoke and has occasional eruptions. It has been active for about the last 70 years, erupting in 1974, 1979, 1984–1985, 1989-1991, 2009, 2011, 2015, and 2016. The volcano has given rise to many onsen (hot springs: 温泉) in the area, including two springs within the crater that are associated with Aso Kujû Kokuritsu Kôen (Aso Kujû National Park: 阿蘇くじゅう国立公園) in Kumamoto and Ôita Prefectures.
Nakao's print depicts Mt. Aso as it emits a volcanic cloud, actually a mixture of water vapor, carbon dioxide, and sulfur gases (and ash). The design relies on simplified forms, thick outlines for the upper ridges of the mountain, and an unexpected lavender colorant for the foreground slope and lower part of the sky. The billowing plume of smoke dominates the view, an unequivocal expression of disruption in the natural world and a harbinger of another pyroclastic eruption that will surely take place ... and yet, the disarmingly cheerful color palette seems to suggest Nakao's acceptance (and admiration?) of this violent natural phrenomenon.
Among public institutions, Nakao's works are included in the collections of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria; Art Institute of Chicago; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh (James Austin Collection); Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (Achenbach Foundation of Graphic Arts); and National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.
- Kawakita, Michiaki: Contemporary Japanese Prints. Tokyo/New York: Kodansha, 1967, no. 85.
- James Michener: Japanese Prints from the Early Masters to the Modern. Rutland, VT: Tuttle, 1959, no. 246.
- Helen Merritt & Nanako Yamada: Guide to Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints 1900-1975. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1992, p. 106.
- Zehnder, Modern Japanese Prints — The Twentieth Century. Pittsburgh: Carnegie Museum Art, 2009, p. 130.