Matsumi Mike Kanemitsu


Name Matsumi Mike Kanemitsu
Born May 28 1922
Died May 11 1992
Birth Location Ogden, UT
Generational Identifier

Kibei painter and printmaker. Matsumi "Mike" Kanemitsu (1922-1992), best known for his work with sumi-e brush and ink-based techniques, was born on May 28, 1922, in Ogden, Utah. He was largely raised by his grandparents in Hiroshima, Japan, until he was 16, when he returned to the U.S., attending school briefly in Utah before working on the railroad and copper mines in Nevada. In 1938, he went to Japan to finish high school, before returning to the United States for good. Arriving in Los Angeles, California, he found work as a gardener before enlisting in the U.S. Army.

Immediately following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Kanemitsu was arrested, interrogated and released. Over the next several years, he was detained in several army camps in the Midwest, including Fort Douglas, Utah, and Fort Riley, Kansas, while still on active military service. While in the camps, he drew portraits and decorated the officers' clubs. He eventually volunteered for overseas service and was stationed in France as a hospital assistant. While in France, Kanemitsu met other artists and intellectuals who introduced him to modernist art and encouraged him to pursue his formal art studies.

He returned to the United States and with the support of the GI Bill, began studying under sculptor Karl Metzler in Baltimore in 1946. He returned to Paris for a year to study with Fernand Leger in Paris, and finally moved to New York where he joined the Art Students League in 1951, where he met and studied with artist Yasuo Kuniyoshi. In New York, Kanemitsu developed a style that integrated his training in Japanese ink painting with modernist abstraction. After a decade in New York, he came to Los Angeles in 1961 on the invitation of June Wayne at the Tamarind print workshop. His loose painting style translated beautifully onto the litho stone and he discovered a great love of printmaking. Kanemitsu took a teaching position at Chouinard Art Institute in 1965, and remained in Los Angeles for the remainder of his life, working frequently with sumi-e brush and other ink-based techniques. In 1964, he visited Japan and established connections with the avant-garde Gutai Group and Bokujin Group.

His work was exhibited in major shows such as the Whitney Annual at the Whitney Museum of Modern Art in New York (1956); "14 Americans," Museum of Modern Art in New York (1962); "Japanese Artists Who Studied in USA, 1875-1960" Hiroshima Museum of Modern Art, Hiroshima (1986); "Made in California: Art, Image and Identity, 1900-2000" at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2000, and "Drawing the Line: Japanese American Art, Design & Activism in Post-War Los Angeles" at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles (2011). In 1990 a show of his lithographs over a 30-year period was presented in the museums of four Japanese cities.

Mike Kanemitsu died in Los Angeles on May 11, 1992, of lung cancer.

Authored by Patricia Wakida

For More Information

Mike Kanemitsu profile for the Japanese American National Museum exhibition, "Drawing the Line."

Chang, Gordon H., Mark Dean Johnson, and Paul J. Karlstrom, editors. Asian American Art: A History, 1850-1970. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2008.

Foster, James. Matsumi Kanemitsu. Honolulu Academy of Arts, 1967.