Born in the Aomori Prefecture in the North of Japan’s main island, Shiko Munakata first began to paint in oil as a self-taught artist. In 1924 he went to Tokyo to begin his formal studies in art. When he was 23 years old, Munakata saw a woodblock print by Sumio Kawakami and he decided to try producing woodblocks himself. Under the tutelage of Unichi Hiratuka, Munakata learned the art of making moku-hanga and, three years later he exhibited four of his woodblocks at the Shunyokai exhibition. From then on he concentrated his efforts on printmaking and as he continued to exhibit, his reputation grew.
Following World War II, Munakata gained a reputation outside of Japan, exhibiting at the Lugano Print Exhibition in 1952, the Sao Paulo Biennal in 1955 and the Venice Biennal in 1956. He was awarded the First Prize in every one of these exhibitions. Following this tremendous success, Munakata went to the United States where he lectured at several universities and held numerous solo exhibitions.
As a practicing Buddhist, Munakata often used religious subjects in his prints and paintings. He also employed subjects from nature and Japanese legends. Many of Munakata’s prints are larger than traditional Japanese prints, in keeping with the style of Western contemporary artists and the buying habits of his Western clients. His woodblocks, lithographs and woodcuts were usually printed in black and white.
A retrospective of Munakata’s work was organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Munakata Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2002.