Matsumi Kanemitsu

Untitled (Sketch of a Boy)

1965
charcoal on paper
13 x 16 inches
signed lower center

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Nicknamed “Mike” by his friend Jackson Pollock, Matsumi Kanemitsu was born in Ogden, Utah in 1922.  In 1925, at the age of three, he was sent to Japan, where he grew up in a suburb of Hiroshima.  In 1940, he returned to the United States and in 1941 enlisted in the United States Army.  After the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, he (like other Japanese) was arrested and sent to a series of internment camps.  It is during this time that he began devoting his time to drawing and working in pastels, with materials given to him by the American Red Cross.

After his discharge from the Army at the end of World War II, Kanemitsu traveled to Paris where he studied with Fernand Leger.  Returning home to the U.S., he moved to N.Y. where he studied with Yasuo Kuniyoshi at the Art Student’s League.  There he met and became friends with the great abstract painters Jackson Pollock, Willem De Kooning, Franz Kline, Norman Bluhm (1921-1999) and Michael Goldberg (1924-2007).  A highly recognized abstract painter of the New York School during the 1950’s, Kanemitsu went to Los Angeles on a Ford Foundation Fellowship in 1961, and settled there permanently a few years later.

Kanemitsu belonged to, what has come to be called the Second Generation of Abstract-Expressionists.  In 1956, his work was included in a Whitney Annual, and in 1962, he participated in a group show at the Tanager Gallery, a Tenth Street cooperative.  By 1960 he was exhibiting at galleries in New York and Los Angeles, and in 1962 his work traveled with the Museum of Modern Art exhibition  14 Americans.  Perhaps because of his move to Los Angeles, his name remains largely absent from most histories of the New York art world in the fifties.

It was in 1961 that June Wayne, founder and director of the Tamarind Lithography Workshop, invited him to Los Angeles to create lithographs.  Because of his understanding of watercolor and ink drawing, he mastered the new medium quickly—the fast and sure application of ink, ratio of tuche (grease) to ink, and layering on dry paint—and combined with his affinity for watercolor, he produced the wet look that became a hallmark of his work.  Kanemitsu was proficient in four separate mediums: sumi, or Japanese ink drawing; watercolor; lithography, and painting on canvas.  His painting was done with acrylics, using a complex technique that involved brushing, staining, pouring and glazing to achieve abstract imagery that often reflected landscapes and the forces of nature.

An invitation to teach at the Chouinard Art School triggered his move to Los Angeles (1965-1970 and then at the Otis Art Institute (1971-1983), around the time the rise of Pop Art was supplanting the importance of the Abstract Expressionist movement in New York.

Museums: Tate Gallery, London UK
Wakefield Art Museum, Wakefield UK
Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany

Public Collections:  Kanemitsu’s work is owned by a number of public institutions in this country and Japan

Sources: The Los Angeles County Museum of Art exhibition material, Benezit Dictionnaire des Peintres,et al, New York Times Obituary, May 16, 1992.

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