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Tetsuro Komaï: A Pioneer of Modern Japanese Copperplate Prints


Tetsuro Komaï, Title unknown, ca 1971, Setagaya Art Museum (Fukuhara Yoshiharu Collection)  ©Yoshiko Komai 2018/JAA1800116


Komai Tetsuro (1920-1976), a pioneer of modern copperplate printmaking in Japan, gained renown both at home and abroad for the profound and poetic world envisioned in his prints. In black ink on white paper he expressed a cosmos of endless wandering amid reveries and madness, one that seems all the more fascinating in the current digital era.

While focusing on copperplate prints, Komai also interacted extensively with poets and musicians, and in his works as a member of the cross-disciplinary art group Jikken Kobo (Experimental Workshop) and his illustrations for poetry collections, he reached across boundaries between media and genres. The formation of Komai’s vision was also influenced by his love of Western art and great admiration for Odilon Redon in particular.

The multifaceted nature of the artist and new, unexplored charms of his works are highlighted in this exhibition, which resembles a tapestry where the chronological development of Komai’s work form the warp, and his influences and connections with other artists the weft. One hitherto little-known aspect revealed here: the artist as a colorist, in vibrant color monotypes from the Fukuhara Yoshiharu Collection of the Setagaya Art Museum. A total of about 210 of Komai’s works appear, including his prints and illustrations for poetry books, as well as about 70 works by related artists, in a fertile and fascinating creative landscape of organic connections among diverse genres of art.    


  1. The many faces of Komai, wizard of corrosion, on view all at once
    The phrase “copperplate printmaking” encompasses a variety of techniques. Komai employed myriad techniques so as to achieve a wide range of creative expression with many seemingly contradictory effects simultaneously, including subtle gradations and sharp lines, precise renderings and fantastic abstract forms, stark monochromes and pictures brimming with color. Komai was an incomparable master of unique uses of corrosion, in works that seem to stimulate the olfactory as well as the visual sense. These visceral pieces are all the more gripping in our sterile digital era. The exhibition traces the evolution of Japanese copperplate printing pioneer Komai in six sections, from his earliest to his latest works.

  2. Intersections of Art, Music and Literature
    Komai participated in the intermedia avant-garde art group Jikken Kobo in the 1950s, collaborating with composer Yuasa Joji on a work for the Auto Slide projector and producing 3D art objects. From the late 1950s to 1970s he worked with many poets including Ooka Makoto and Ando Tsuguo on illustrations and covers for poetry collections. This exhibition showcases Komai’s transcendence of boundaries among genres, and illuminates the power of his art, which extends to other areas such as literature and music.

  3. View of the artist as a critic, and pairings of Western art and Komai’s works
    Komai was not only well versed in the history and techniques of printmaking, but also had extensive knowledge of Western art history. His work was influenced by that of Western artists like Redon, Paul Klee and Joan Miro. Komai also contributed many critical texts about the artists he admired to art journals, and by reading these we can discover his own artistic vision. For this exhibition we have read through Komai’s writings, and have paired his works with those of his favorite Western artists to enable interpretation of what he absorbed from them and how his own original ideas evolved.


1. Encountering Copperplate Printmaking

Komai Tetsuro first encountered copperplate prints at the age of 14 when he happened to look at an issue of the monthly magazine ”Etching” mailed to his father. He later recalled, “I entered the art world when I started making copperplate prints, without doing any other drawing or painting first.” Komai studied printmaking techniques at the Japan Etching Institute, established by Nishida Takeo. He also had the opportunity to view original Western copperplate prints at a gallery next to the Institute, and was deeply enchanted by the world he encountered in them. In addition to some of Komai’s earliest works, this section features works by artists that inspired him, such as Rembrandt and Whistler, and those of other Japanese artists who studied under Nishida.

Key related artists:
Rembrandt Harmenszoon VAN RIJN/Charles MERYON/James McNeill WHISTLER/NISHIDA Takeo/SUDA Kunitaro/SEKINO Junichiro

2. Emerging along with Postwar Art

In 1947 Komai joined the Ichimoku-kai (First Thursday Society), a printmaking study group led by Onchi Koshiro, a woodblock printmaker and leading figure in Japanese abstraction. Even in Ichimoku-kai, which was primarily focused on woodcuts, Komai also produced copperplate prints and tackled new techniques suited to rendering surfaces, in contrast to line-based etching. He immersed himself in literature, and his subjects underwent a significant transition from realistic landscape to internal panoramas of the mind. Through mastery of technique he arrived at new subject matter, and Komai’s work blossomed, winning awards at the Shun’yokai Art Society exhibition of 1950 and the 1st São Paulo Art Biennial the following year. This section presents some of Komai’s most important early works alongside those of his teachers Onchi and Oka Shikanosuke, and of printmakers of the same generation such as Seimiya Naobumi and Hamada Chimei.

Key related artists:
Odilon REDON/ONCHI Koshiro/OKA Shikanosuke/SEIMIYA Naobumi/HAMADA Chimei

3. Connecting with the Avant-Garde

In 1950, Komai met the poet and art critic Takiguchi Shuzo, and thereafter Takiguchi became a supporter of Komai’s work and an advocate for the potential of copperplate prints as contemporary art. Takiguchi named and played an instrumental role in forming the Jikken Kobo group, which became active in 1951, and he recommended Komai for membership the following year. Komai collaborated with composer Yuasa Joji on ”Lespugue,” an audiovisual work for Auto Slide projector presented at the 5th Jikken Kobo Exhibition in 1953, and produced three-dimensional objects for the ”Asahigraph” magazine column “APN.” This section focuses Komai as a member of the intermedia movement by showcasing his activities with Jikken Kobo, as well as contemporaneous works by other members including Kitadai Shozo and Yamaguchi Katsuhiro.

Key related artists:

4. Studying in France and Reemerging from "Ruins"

Komai departed from the Port of Yokohama for France in 1954, and after arriving in Paris was quick to call on Hasegawa Kiyoshi, one of the copperplate printmakers he admired most. On Hasegawa’s advice Komai enrolled at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts and sought to master engraving, considered in France to be the most basic copperplate printmaking technique. Komai was overwhelmed by the richness of the arts and the weight of tradition in France, leading to a loss of self-confidence. However, not too long after returning from his one-and-a-half-year sojourn, he produced ”Tree: After a Sketch by Redon” as a frontispiece for a book of poems by Oyama Masataka, and this marked a turning point and his first step toward emergence from despair. This section features Komai’s works produced in Europe as well as the subsequent tree series that became the focal point of his artistic rebirth.

Key related artists:
Rodolphe BRESDIN/Odilon REDON/HASEGAWA Kiyoshi

5. Inspiring and Inspired by Poetry

In 1958, Komai exhibited his illustrations for Ooka Makoto’s poems at the Shoshi Eureka 10th Anniversary Exhibition of Poetry and Art. Komai grew closer to Ooka through this endeavor and also got to know the poet Ando Tsuguo two months later. Ando and Komai produced the illustrated poetry books ”Calendrier” and ”And They Called It Hanka (Envoi),” finding mutual inspiration and artistic fulfillment in the collaboration. Thereafter, until the end of his life, collaborations with poets such as illustrations and book covers were an important creative outlet for Komai. In this section we present works by Komai that poets treasured, particularly his illustrations for poetry books and works that grew out of these, in a delightful harmony of word and image.

Key related artists:
OOKA Makoto/ANDO Tsuguo/AWAZU Norio/FUKUNAGA Takehiko/HANIYA Yutaka/KANEKO Mitsuharu/TANIKAWA Shuntaro

6. Longing for a World of Color

The prints that Komai exhibited and selected for portfolios during his lifetime were primarily monochromatic, but while stoic in his allegiance to black and white, the artist also began producing color prints in the 1950s. In the 1970s in particular, he produced many multicolor monotypes, and unexpectedly revealed an extraordinary chromatic sensibility. These works convey his profound affection and esteem for Redon, who in Komai’s words “in his later years created a world of brilliant color in oil paint and pastel,” but also his strong commitment to printmaking in his selection of monotype, which uses a printing plate, as a medium. In this section, enjoy the vibrant resonance of Komai’s color works as well as those of Western artists he loved such as Redon, Klee, Ernst, and Miro.

Key related artists:


DatesOctober 13 (Sat.)- December 16 (Sun.), 2018
Open Hours
*Open until 20:30 on November 23 (Fri.), 2018
*Admission until 30 minutes before closing.
Organized by
Yokohama Museum of Art (Yokohama Arts Foundation), Nikkei Inc.
Grants from
Japan Arts Council, The Kao Foundation for Arts and Sciences
Sponsored by
Shiseido Co., Ltd.
Special cooperation by
Setagaya Art Museum
In Cooperation with
Minatomirai Line, Yokohama Cable Vision Inc., Yokohama FM Broadcasting Co., Ltd., Metropolitan Expressway Co., Ltd.


University students
High school students 
900 (700/800)
Junior high school students
600 (400/500)
Children under 12Free
Seniors (65 and older)1,400
*ID required. Only available at ticket counter in the museum.

*(/)=Advance / Group of 20 or more.
*For a group of 20 or more, reservation is required in advance.
*Free Admission on November 3(Sat.) 
*Advance tickets are available from July 13 (Fri.) until October 12 (Fri.), 2018 at the Museum Shop and through Seven-Eleven ticket or eplus ticket.
*Free admission for high school students and younger with valid IDs on Saturdays.
*Visitors with disability and one person accompanying them are admitted free of charge. (Please present certificate at the entrance.)
*The ticket also gives admission to the Exhibition of the Museum Collection for the same day.

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