Kanemitsu in California during the 1960s and 1970s
Nicknamed Mike by his friend Jackson Pollock, Matsumi Kanemitsu was an abstract painter of the New York School during the 1950s. But in 1961, June Wayne, founder and director of the Tamarind Lithography Workshop, invited him to Los Angeles to create lithographs. 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. An invitation to teach at the Chouinard Art School triggered his move to Los Angeles in 1965, around the time the rise of Pop Art was hindering the sales of Abstract Expressionist paintings in New York. Ironically, Kanemitsu incorporated American cultural icons in his lithographs, which were commercially successful. Despite its title, hisIllustrations of Southern California series was quite dark; for instance,Hollywood Hills Ghost is about the desirable neighborhood where the Charles Manson Family slaughtered members of the entertainment industry. The pastoral landscape is splattered with ink "blood." The hill on the right of this print is suggestive of a female body; Kanemitsu's erotic and virile lines are ubiquitous, sensually flowing in his seemingly autobiographical and humorous Mikey Mouse Series and in his more sexually charged lithographs, such as the scandalous Oxnard Madame, a black transvestite who ruled the sin industry around the military base during World War II. His fluid and expressionistic lines hid the actual somber subjects, such as the Americans of Japanese heritage stabled at the Santa Anita Park, where their tears of humiliation haunt the race track. Kanemitsu denied any association to calligraphy and zen, but perhaps in the eyes of Americans, his painterly Asian elements hid his social concern.
Image: Hollywood Hills Ghost, Kanemitsu, Matsumi (Mike), June 1970, lithograph on Copperplate Deluxe paper, sheet: 20 x 15 in. (50.8 x 38.1 cm), Cirrus Editions Archive, purchased with funds provided by the Director's Roundtable, and gift of Cirrus Editions.