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Biography: IDÔ Masao (井堂雅夫)

photo of Idô Masao
Idô Masao sketching

Ido Masao signature


Ido Masaô Seishu

Idô Masao (井堂雅夫 1945-2016) was born in an air-raid shelter in Beipiao, Chaoyang prefecture, Liaoning province (northeast China) in 1945. The following year his family moved first to Kyoto, his parent's home city, and soon after to Iwate. He began drawing and painting while in grade school, but in 1959, when he was fourteen, his parents separated and he moved back to Kyoto. Eventually, through his grandfather's connections, Idô was introduced in 1961 to Mitsuho Yoshida, a traditional fabric dyer, for whom he he served as a live-in apprentice, first as a menial assistant but later as a serious student. He also studied in Kyoto with the textile-dyeing artist Yoshida Kôhô.

Idô once described his path toward printmaking: "While continuing to dye fabric for kimono and obi (帯) sashes for a living, in my spare time I began to create my own artworks and submit them to various exhibitions. A little later, a printmaking friend introduced me to an art dealer, and I was offered an opportunity to hold my first solo exhibition at his gallery. I made drawings with dye-inks and wax on hand-made paper, and called them 'batik'. I was twenty-five then, and it marked an important first step as an artist. I can't forget the thrill of selling my first work. Soon, when I was beginning to feel a strong urge to create something other than dyeing works, the art dealer showed me woodblock prints by Saitô Kiyoshi [斎藤清 19071997]. The moment I saw them, I got my answer. I was so deeply inspired by his works that I immediately started to study the world of woodblock printmaking. I visited carvers' and printers' workshops whenever I found time to see a variety of wonderful techniques and understand the long history of printmaking. I was completely drawn into this world."

Idô considered becoming an eshi (painter or designer: 絵師) in the manner of Edo-period ukiyo-e production, engaging exclusively in drawing the original pictures for prints. He said that artists should "create something new from scratch, while the artisan's job is to realize the artist's ideas in actual works by employing their advanced skills." However, the number of highly skilled artisans was rapidly decreasing, so he "decided to create a hanmoto (in this case, a publisher in ukiyo-e tradition: 板元).... I asked carvers and printers to teach young people their techniques systematically. At the same time, I thought of owning a gallery which would exclusively show woodblock prints. In order to realize such a dream, I continued to produce kimono and obi during the day in my dyeing studio as my source of income, employing about ten workers, and made sketches for prints at night. Finally, in 1982, I opened a gallery [Gallery Gado, ギャラリー雅堂 in Kyoto] which would serve as a center for printmaking and its promotion."

Idô's first woodcuts appeared in 1972, the same year he studied printmaking in Kyoto with the painter/designer Ôtsubo Shigechika (1899-1998), who was a graduate of the Tokyo Fine Arts School (Tokyo Bijutsu Gakkô, 東京美術学校 in 1921). At first, Idô's palette was restrained and occasionally nearly monochrome, featuring the use of a rich black pigment.

When Idô's printmaking matured, he developed a bright color palette that featured, among other things, a distinct shade of green and its variants that some admirers, he was once told, were fond of calling "Idô-Green." He explained it this way: "At one occasion, a non-Japanese called the green an 'Idô Green'. I instinctively create the colors on the palettes. I can't explain how to create it theoretically, although I'm very happy to hear that people call my green an 'Idô Green'. See, for example, the image above right, titled Seishû (清秋), which measures 600 x 200 mm. Here, the shades of green (and their combination with scarlet red used for the maple leaves) exemplify the sort of color palette that became so intimately associated with Idô's oeuvre. He also used a bright lemon-yellow colorant in many works.

In 2008, from his studio in Kyoto, Idô completed the series Kyoto hyakkei (One hundred scenes of Kyoto: 京都百景), having spent five years on the project. The series is organized by ten subdivisions (a further ten designs were added later, bringing the grand total to 110). Idô considered the series a sort of Heisei-period (平成 1989-2019) ukiyo-e, saying, "The idea behind this project was that, even after my passing, printers will be able to reprint these hundred scenes using the blocks (there are about a thousand), and even when these blocks are worn out, carvers can re-carve the images on new blocks and continue to print them, since ukiyo-e has no edition numbers. In this way, I can continue to provide jobs for future carvers and printers while the techniques are being handed down. Thus, I can entrust my dream to future generations." The style is different from Idô's usual imagery. There is a less-saturated use of color and more simplified drawing than is true for most of his other oeuvre. Overall, the series reminds one of certain modern Kyoto print artists such as Tokuriki Tomokichirô (徳力富吉郎 1902-2000).

There is one other area of creative work that engaged Idô, namely, painting on fabrics, where he often used fast-drying acrylics as well as standard watercolors. He enjoyed the freedom of applying brush strokes to various media, which, he felt, released him from the demanding nature of designing prints to be made from carved blocks. He reported that his favorite method was acrylic painting on silks. Referred to as kenpon saishiki (color painting or calligraphy executed on textiles such as silk: 絹本彩色). Idô occasionally produced abstract works on fabrics. However, he also adapted the Japanese painting style called Rinpa (琳派,) a key part of the Edo-period revival of indigenous, classical Japanese art called yamato-e (大和絵). In Rinpa, paintings, textiles, ceramics, and lacquerware were decorated in vibrant colors by Rinpa artists in a highly decorative and patterned manner. Favored themes often contained evocative references to nature and the seasons, were were drawn from Japanese literature. Idô would adapt this approach to his fabric paintings without necessarily adopting the traditional themes.

Prints by Idô Masao can be found in many private collections as well as in important public institutions, including the Honolulu Museum of Art; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

The text provided here is based in large part on John Fiorillo's web page: