Kurosaki Akira

"A New Style of Woodblock Printing"

photo of artist c. 2012

image source: website of Galleria Esta

 Kurosaki Akira 黒崎彰 (January 10, 1937-May 14, 2019)


A major figure in modern mokuhanga (woodblock prints using water-based inks), Kurosaki developed an interest in ukiyo-e prints and techniques while in college, taking pleasure in late-period Edo and Meiji period works, struck by their intense colors. He produced his first woodblock prints in 1965 and would go on to also work in silkscreen, collagraph and mixed media, creating works which express "contemporary ideas while respecting traditional Japanese materials and methods."[1]  His work, mostly abstract or semi-representational, was shown in major domestic and international exhibitions, winning numerous awards including the 1st Florence International Print Biennale Gold Award and the World Print Award for Contemporary Masters and World Print Awards (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art).  He became an authority on both Japanese and Korean paper, conducted extensive research on prints and authored a variety of articles and books on printmaking. He taught throughout his career, culminating in being made professor emeritus at Kyoto Seika University. Beginning in the late 1970s Akira worked as visiting professor and artist-in-residence at various universities in the United States, Europe and Asia. In 2008 he received the Order of the Sacred Treasure, 3rd class by the emperor. His work is in the collections of the British Museum, Museum of Modern Art New York, and Tokyo’s National Museum of Modern Art, among many others.

[1] Continuum, Pyramid Atlantic, Innovative Prints From 1992-2007, Katherine L. Blood, Pyramid Atlantic Gallery

Prints in Collection

click on image for details

IHL Cat. #2269c

An Omen from the portfolio The Original Prints - 44 Modern Japanese Print Artists, 1973

image: 7 1/16 x 7 1/16 in.

sheet: 11 13/16 x 11 13/16 in. 

IHL Cat. #2032

Hello, Ms. Mao from the portfolio China: A Collection of Woodblock Prints, 1980

image: 12 7/8 x 17 13/16 in.

sheet: 16 3/4 x 21 7/8 in. 

IHL Cat. #2098

Mystic Aura, 1982

image: 14 1/8 x 9 3/4 in.

sheet: 19 1/4 x 13 in. 

IHL Cat. #2001

Stone Pagodas from the portfolio Eight Views of the Land of the Morning Calm, 1987

image: 18 x 12 1/2 in.

sheet: 22 x 16 1/2 in.

IHL Cat. #2241

Tale of the Wind, 1989

image: 14 1/2 x 10 1/8 in.

sheet: 19 x 12 7/8 in.

IHL Cat. #1833

Wandering Heart, 1990

image: 8 1/4 x 7 13/16 in.

sheet: 12 1/4 x 11 1/8 in.

IHL Cat. #2366

Double Bāo W-543 from the series Nomad, 2002

image: 14 1/2 x 10 1/8 in.

sheet: 19 x 12 7/8 in.


Never deviating from traditional methods for making his prints, Kurosaki stands alone

in grandeur among works which provide unequaled portrayals of depth and mystery.

Gaston Petit, 1973 [1]

Note: Biography compiled primarily  from the following sources: Akira Kurosaki Woodblock Prints, 1965-1983, Hideo Tomiyama and Akira Kurosaki, Shirota Gallery November, 1984 and The Complete Works of Akira Kurosaki: Catalogue Raisonne: Woodcuts & Paper Works 1965-2006 黒崎彰の全仕事. Tokyo, Abe Shuppan, 2006. Quoted material is footnoted.

undated photo of the artist appearing in his book Shaping Paper 

image source: Hiromi Paper Inc. 

They [ukiyo-e] lifted me into a separate world, a realm of mysticism. Compared with the works produced only once by a single artist, I felt that these multiple works born of the hands of several craftsmen held a distinctive expressive power.

His father working for the Manchuria Railway Co., Ltd., Akira was born in Dalian, Japanese-occupied Manchuria in 1937, but returned to Japan with his mother in 1938 to live with relatives in the port town of Kobe. Due to air raids, he was relocated to Ishiyama in Ōmi Province (current day Shiga Prefecture) and he would maintain a deep affection for this area (see Eight Views of Ōmi below.) After the war, while still a junior high school student, his father arranged for him to study drawing and painting with Itō Tsugurō 伊藤継郎 (1907-1994), a Western-style artist. However, his father did not encourage him to be a painter as he felt it would not provide an adequate living. Despite his father's advice, in 1956 Kurosaki entered the Kyoto Institute of Technology where he studied in the Department of Design, receiving his B.A. degree in 1962. During his formal studies Akira felt constrained by his teachers and the art education he was receiving and upon graduation sought out a broader understanding of art, one closer to his passions - "the endless attraction he felt to the works of Gauguin, Munch and James Ensor."[1]  Domestically, he found himself particularly drawn to the nihonga (Japanese-style) painter Kagaku Murakami 村上華岳 (1888-1939) famous for his Buddhist works and Ryūsei Kishida 岸田劉生 (1891-1929), a Western-style oil painter best known for his portraiture. 

Beginning in his college days, Akira developed a love and respect for traditional woodblock prints in the forms of ukiyo-e, nishiki-e (multi-colored prints) and ezōshi (woodblock printed illustrated books), later writing that he was "struck by their irresistible attraction" and exulted "in the tension of cooperative creation." [2]  

Akira would then set a course to create woodblock prints, visiting traditional carvers and printers to learn the craft and, in 1965, he would create his first woodblock prints, focusing on religious themes, having recently converted to Catholicism after a bout with tuberculosis and befriending "a French priest living in Kobe who loved art."[3]

Though traditional in technique, he set his goal "to re-animate their [traditional woodblock prints] style in modern form through strong color contrasts and radical compositions."[4] In the artist's words, "I combine shapes and aspects to create a world reminiscent to that found in ukiyo-e prints" and his favorite shapes originated from his own imagination.[5]

[1] Akira Kurosaki Woodblock Prints, 1965-1983, Hideo Tomiyama and Akira Kurosaki, Shirota Gallery November, 1984, p. 16.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid, p. 15.

[5] The Complete Works of Akira Kurosaki: Catalogue Raisonne: Woodcuts & Paper Works 1965-2006 黒崎彰の全仕事. Tokyo, Abe Shuppan, 2006.

Sampling of the Artist's Work Over the Decades

Kurosaki at work in his atelier 2010 - applying dosa (a solution of glue and alum) to the completed print Sunset at Seta from the series Eight Views of Ōmi

Note: all sizes are sheet size unless otherwise noted

Have Mercy On Us (W10), 1965


woodblock print on Mino paper

sheet: 13 x 16 1/2 in. (21.7 x 27 cm)

The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto P03057

Holy Night 65 (W65), 1967

浄夜 65

color woodblock print on Echizen torinoko paper

image: 19 5/8 in x 27 7/16 in

sheet: 23 5/16 in x 30 7/16 in 

Portland Art Museum 81.70.5

Closed Room 3G (W111G), 1971

終わりの部屋 3G

color woodblock print on Echizen torinoko paper

30 5/8 x 30 5/8 in. (77.8 x 77.8 cm)

Love and Peace "Funky Art" (W176) from the portfolio America, 1975


woodblock print and zinc photo relief on paper

11 7/8 x 16 1/2 in. (30 x 42 cm)

The National Museum of Art, Osaka

From 1984 to 1989 Kurosaki focused on three-dimensional paper works. His Dark Rain series used paper collages that had first been printed on, treated with fermented persimmon juice and then drawn on.

Signature for the Sky (Edo-Kite) (W355), 1987大空への署名 (江戸凧)

82 1/4 x 55 1/8 in. (208 x 140 cm)

mixed media: woodcut, handmade paper, sumi, persimmon juice, chine colé

commissioned by the Goethe Institute, Osaka

Lady Macbeth (W391), 1990


mixed media: silkscreen, handmade paper, graphite, persimmon juice, drawing

22 7/8 x 24 7/16 in. (96 x 62 cm)

Comb in Yellow (W491), 1996


three-color lithograph on German etching paper

30 1/4 x 22 1/2 in. (76.8 x 57.2 cm)

Tamarind Institute


For Brilliance: Osaka (W500), 1997


color woodblock print on torinoko paper

5 1/8 x 21 5/8 in. (13 x 55 cm)


mural object - For Brilliance: Osaka

commissioned by the Osaka Nagahori Kaihatsu KK Crysta Nagahori Metro Space

iron, stainless steel, aluminum, brass, glass, ceramic, enamelstone

78 3/4 x 354 1/3 in. (200 x 900 cm)

Orpheus's Lyre (W503), 1999


woodblock on Korean hangi paper

23 5/8 x 15 1/2 in. (60 x 39.5 cm)

Apollonian Wall 528 (W528), 2001


handmade paper (kozo, wooden pulp) persimmon juice

38 3/16 x 26 3/8 in. (97 x 67 cm)

Famous Sites of Kyoto (W542), 2002


color woodblock print on Echizen torinoko paper

14 9/16 x 10 1/4 in. (37 x 26 cm)

Nekropolis 1, Winter Straits (W578,) 2006

ネクロポリス 1 (冬の海峡)

color woodblock print on Korean kozo paper

15.5 x 23 1/4 in. (39.5 x 59 cm)

Ōmi, Yūnami Chidori [a poem by] Kakinomotono Hitomaro from the series Man'yō, 2014


color woodblock print on paper

15 3/4 x 21 5/8 in. (40 x 55 cm)

 “Man’yo” (“Ten Thousand Leaves”) is based on the oldest existing collection of Japanese poetry from the 8th century

 Eight Views of Ōmi 近江八景, 2010-2012

I lived near Lake Biwa for five years when I was in elementary school and high school. Although I spent most of my time in Kobe and Kyoto, Ōmi is also my hometown, considering my origin and family ties. I've dreamed of trying this famous subject, which has many masterpieces, for many years, but I couldn't decide and time passed. I started making it with the feeling of jumping from the top of a cliff.  [translated from https://www.galerie-miyawaki.com/PastExhibitions.htm

Eight Views of Ōmi along with Man’yo (“Ten Thousand Leaves”)  were his final series before his death.

Five of the Eight Views

Distant View of Awazu


33 1/2 x 19 5/8 in. (85 x 50 cm)

Evening Bell at Miidera Temple


33 1/2 x 19 5/8 in. (85 x 50 cm)

Sunset at Seta


33 1/2 x 19 5/8 in. (85 x 50 cm)

Evening Snow on Mt. Hira


19 5/8 x 33 1/2 in. (50 x 85 cm)

Descending Geese at Katada, 2010


19 5/8 x 31 1/2 in. (50 x 85 cm)

Akai yami 1 (赤い闇 1) from the portfolio

Les Tenebres Vermeilles (Red Darkness), 1970

image source: Honolulu Museum of Art

Gift of Mr. Felix Juda, 1970 (15526)

International Experience

Note: compiled primarily from Hideo Tomiyama's forward to  Akira Kurosaki Woodblock Prints 1965-1983, Shirota Gallery, 1984, p. 15-19 and an interview with the artist appearing in The Complete Works of Akira Kurosaki: Catalogue Raisonne: Woodcuts & Paper Works 1965-2006 黒崎彰の全仕事. Tokyo, Abe Shuppan, 2006.  Quoted material is separately footnoted.

In his forward to the first major publication of Akira's work, Akira Kurosaki Woodblock Prints, 1965-1983, Hideo Tomiyama, Deputy Director of The Tokyo Museum of Modern Art, credits Akira's 1970 series Red Darkness with launching his international career. Prints in this series used up to 8 blocks, 15 colors and were printed as many as 70 times.

Akira maintained a busy international schedule for much of his career, starting in 1973 when he received an international travel grant from the Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs, which he spent studying printmaking techniques, including woodcut, at Harvard University, Hamburg's Hochshule fur Bildende Kunts and other institutions. Upon his return he produced the ten print portfolio America (see "Sampling of the Artist's Work Over the Decades" above) which made use of zinc relief photo blocks, a technique learned during his travels. In the summer of 1979, under the sponsorship of the Japan Art and Culture Association, he entered works in the Exhibition of Modern Japanese Art in Beijing, spending several weeks visiting Beijing, Harbin, and Shanghai as a member of the Japanese delegation. This trip was the impetus for the ten print portfolio China. (See this collection's print IHL Cat. #2032 Hello, Ms. Mao.)

In 1983 he would return to Harvard to teach woodblock printing, commuting between Cambridge and Kyoto. In 1992, he was invited by the Munch Museum to conduct research on the Japanese paper Munch printed on. Almost every year would find him teaching or lecturing at an overseas location or taking up an overseas artist residency as he did in 1996 at the Tamarind Institute, creating a series of lithographs (see Comb in Yellow above.) His work would appear in over 150 overseas exhibitions during the course of his career and he would serve on numerous international juries and committees. He credits his English speaking ability with easing his way into the international art scene.

International Outlook - Japanese Tradition

"While his outlook is international, his contribution to printmaking has much do do with his revival of the hanmoto system," the traditional ukiyo-e collaborative system where the artist, carver, printer and publisher worked together, engaged in division of labor with well-defined roles.[1]

"The more Kurosaki learnt from the carvers and printers the more he came to doubt the individualistic merits of the sosaku hanga style (where an artist designs, carves and prints their own work) and the more respect he felt for the benefits of the collaborative process. He felt that the contribution of each member of the team from the artist to the printer contributed to the dynamism of the woodblock tradition."[2] 

While Kurosaki relied on master printers such as Uchiyama Sohei and Sato Keizo and carvers such as Kitamura Shōichi for his own ambitious body of abstract prints, he never completely abandoned carving and printing his own work, particularly in the 1990s when he began working with a thin and strong Korean paper, hanji, a Korean mulberry paper, that he was introduced to during his 1980 Korea visit.[3]  Hollis Goodall, Curator of Japanese Art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, notes in her biography of the artist that when Kurosaki started working with Korean paper "he stopped making collaborative prints."[4] 

[1] Japanese Woodblock Print Workshop, A Modern Guide to the Ancient Art of Mokuhanga, April Vollmer, Clarkson Potter/Ten Speed,  2015, p. 85.

[2]  "Akira Kurosaki - a contemporary master in the ukiyo-e tradition" https://galeria-esta.pl/artykuly/akira-kurosaki-wspolczesny-mistrz-tradycji-ukiyo-e/

[3] Kurosaki credits Uchiyama with making his work "come alive" in the ukiyo-e tradition. Sato is a master printer and President of Sato Woodblock Print Center, vice-chair of Kyoto branch of the Ukiyo-e Woodblock Printmaking Association of Technical Preservation and a member of Kyoto Takuminokai, International Ukiyo-e Society. Kitamura was a member of Kyoto Woodblock Printmaking Association and a vice-chair of Kyoto branch of the Ukiyo-e Woodblock Printmaking Association of Technical Preservation.  

[4] Akira Kurosaki About this Artist website of LACMA https://collections.lacma.org/node/153433

lecturing in April, 2012 

As a Teacher

Immediately after graduating from college, Akira began teaching art at a  junior high school. He also taught part-time until 1971 in the Department of Architecture at Kinki University (now Kindai University) in Osaka. In 1971, he returned to his alma mater, the Kyoto Institute of Technology, first as a lecturer and later, in 1981, as a full professor in the Department of Design. In 1987 he became a professor at Kyoto Seika University teaching classes in mokuhanga and papermaking, "training a new generation of master artist-printers."[1] Heading the Department of Print and Papermaking at the College of Fine Arts at Kyoto Seika he would attain emeritus status in 2008. 

We must nurture people who think about Japanese history and traditions. It is important to nurture people from the place of life based on the history and culture of each region. From there, pride in the region and country is born.[2]

Internationally, he was a guest lecturer and visiting professor at numerous universities including Washington University, Seattle in 1978, University of Oregon, University of Michigan and Harvard and influenced scores of international artists who studied with him. 

[1] "Mokuhanga, The Renaissance of a Japanese Woodblock Technique", April Vollmer appearing in Procesos/Processes, 2013, p. 71

[2]  translation of a December 11, 2011 interview in the Kyoto Minpo 京都民報


Kurosaki was an active member of the Japan Print Association since 1969. Since the 1980s he regularly contributed to the annual College Women's Association of Japan's (CWAJ) print show. 

His published books include, Gendai Mokuhanga (Contemporary Woodblock), Bijutsushuppansha, 1977; Kami: Japanese Handmade Paper (1978); Modern Woodcut Prints: From Japanese Traditional Woodcut Techniques to Modern Methods of Wood-Cut Print (1985); Washi: Japanese Handmade Paper (1987). In 2002 he completed Anatomy of Print History: From Shōsōin to Gauguin (Hangashi kaibō : Shōsōin kara Gōgyan e), the results of his extensive research into the history of prints and the tools and materials used to produce them

In 2016 Kurosaki was awarded the Kyoto Prefecture Culture Prize for Special Achievement, presented for a life time of "remarkable achievements in cultural and artistic activities."[1]

[1] Kyoto Prefecture website https://www.pref.kyoto.jp/bungei/bunkasho.html

A half-hour recording of a demonstration given by Kurosaki in 1980 at the University of Washington School of Art (with commentary in English)

Akira Kurosake passed away on May 14, 2019 at a hospital in Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto at the age of 82. A private service was held by the family.

Signatures of the Artist and Marks Appearing on Prints

seal of the artist reading

kuro or kurosaki

impressed seal of the printer

impressed seal of the printer Uchiyama Sohei