Matsumi Kanemitsu


About The Artist

While closely associated with the New York Abstract Expressionist school in the 1950s and 1960s, Matsumi “Mike” Kanemitsu has long been overlooked. Kanemitsu is best known for his mastery and versatility of line in four separate mediums including sumi-e (Japanese ink drawing), watercolor, lithography, and figurative painting.

Though he was born in the United States, Kanemitsu grew up in Japan, living there from 1925-1940. In 1940, he returned to the U.S. and enlisted in the United States Army. Upon the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, however, he, along with thousands of other Japanese-Americans, was arrested and sent to a series of Army detention camps. Using the art supplies provided by the American Red Cross, he began to draw his first compositions in pen, ink, and pastels. He was eventually released from surveillance, and volunteered for overseas duty as a hospital assistant in Europe until 1946.

Thereafter, Kanemitsu studied in Paris and New York with Fernand Leger and Yasuo Kuniyoshi, respectively. He began to associate with the New York school at the time, which included Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, and Jackson Pollock, inspiring his black-and-white watercolor works. Jackson Pollock was apparently the first to nickname Kanemitsu “Mike.”

In 1961, Kanemitsu earned a Ford Foundation grant to work at the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles on the personal invitation of June Wayne. There he was able to readily translate the techniques he had learned in sumi painting to lithography. Eventually settling in Los Angeles, the artist taught at the Chouinard Art School from 1965 to 1970, and then at the Otis Art Institute from 1971 to 1983.

Kanemitsu exhibited widely throughout the United States during his lifetime, and his works are owned by a number of public institutions in the U.S. and Japan, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Honolulu Museum of Art, The Baltimore Museum of Art, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., the Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the MoMA, New York, the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and SFMOMA.

“Matsumi Kanemitsu.” David Richard Gallery. Edited by David Richard Gallery. David Richard Gallery, n.d. Web. 11 Jun. 2018.
“Matsumi Kanemitsu, 69, Artist Who Worked in Four Mediums.” New York Times. New York Times, 1992. n.d. Web. 11 Jun. 2018.