Shiro Kasamatsu was born in the Asakusa section of Tokyo in 1898. He started his art studies at a young age and in 1911, he became a student of Kaburagi Kiyokata, a master of the “bijin-ga”genre. Early on, he studied the Japanese style of painting and concentrated mostly on landscapes.
Kasamatsu’s paintings were shown at several exhibitions, including the government sponsored Bunten, where they impressed Tokyo publisher, Watanabe Shozaburo. He approached Kasamatsu in 1919 about designing woodblock prints. Kasamatsu published his first print, “A Windy Day in Early Summer”, during that same year. Over the next few years, he designed numerous landscape prints, but the blocks were lost in the 1923 Kanto earthquake. Kasamatsu worked with Watanabe Shozaburo again in the 1930s, designing prints of landscapes, interiors and Noh masks. “Shinobazu Pond”, published in 1932 was so well received that it was reprinted continually throughout the 1930s and 1940s. In many of his prints, Kasamatsu used foreground elements, such as branches to draw the viewer in and give the image depth. In 1939, he designed a series titled “Eight Views of Tokyo”, but he completed only four prints.
Feeling that he did not have creative control over his work, Kasamatsu became intrigued by the independence of the “sosaku hanga” printmakers who carved and printed their own designs. Following WWII, he stopped working with Watanabe Shozaburo and it took nearly a decade before he began to produce his own prints. He collaborated, for a short time, with Unsodo, a publisher in Tokyo, designing animal prints and landscapes. Kasamatsu began carving and printing his own designs in limited, numbered editions during the 1950s, signing the prints himself, in English. Some of the Watanabe Shozaburo published prints are also signed in English, although probably by Shozaburo’s employees, not by the artist.
Shiro Kasamatsu produced prints for several decades, but never promoted them through gallery affiliations or exhibitions. His prints are regarded by many as more a labor of love than a commercial success.