Sources: Modern Japanese Prints: An Art Reborn, Oliver Statler, Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1956; Modern Japanese Prints 1912-1989, Lawrence Smith, British Museum Press, 1994; Independent Administrative Institution National Institutes for Cultural Heritage https://www.tobunken.go.jp/materials/bukko/10565.html and as footnoted.
Born on January 12, 1920 in Tokyo’s Kyobashi district, Mabuchi learned wood engraving at an early age from his father Mabuchi Rokutarō, who was to go on to become a pioneer in airbrush technique in the field of commercial art. His parents encouraged Tōru to become an artist, sending him to a middle school that would prepare him for this career. Commenting on his schooling, Mabuchi told Oliver Statler, "After middle school, I entered the design course in the government art school [Tokyo University of Fine Arts] at Ueno. This course included oil painting and drawing, but it emphasized the decorative and applied arts. My father wanted me to be an artist, but he wanted me to be able to earn a living too.”2
Tōru had been making woodblock prints since grammar school and had developed a
love for them which he kept up in art school, taking classes from the famous sosaku hanga print maker Hiratsuka Un'ichi (1895-1997). During his last two years at university, he began to show his prints in major exhibitions such as those staged by the Kōfukai Art Association (Light and Wind Club) and the Zōkei hanga kyōkai (Formative or Plastic Print Society). While he learned wood carving from his father, he credits Hiratsuka with strengthening his technique and confidence. Mabuchi never thought of himself as anything other than a print artist and used his learned skills in oil painting, water color and pastel only for sketching.
After graduation in December 1941 he was drafted into the army, first assigned as an Imperial Palace Guard and later as a map and chart maker, keeping him out of combat.
Post-war, Tōru took over his father’s commercial design business which provided both financial security and the time required to pursue his passion for his unique form of “mosaic” print making which involved cutting small pieces of thin wood then gluing them to a woodblock in a mosaic-like pattern. Mabuchi came to this process through his interest in Byzantine mosaics and related to Statler in 1956 that he first “started by attempting the pointillist technique of juxtaposing spots of primary colors, but it didn’t work, so I fell back on the mosaic effect. The jury at the government show always argues about accepting these prints because the blocks aren’t carved, but so far they’ve been accepted.”4 His print making process is intricate and time consuming involving as many as 30 to 50 printing stages.5