KON Junzo[1893-1944]

KON Junzo was born in 1893 in Hirosaki City to a family that had served for generations as doctors to the area’s feudal rulers, the Tsugaru clan. His five-year-older brother was KON Wajiro, who founded the field of “modernology” (kogengaku) as well as making important contributions to research on traditional Japanese farmhouses. After the Kon family moved to Tokyo in 1906, Junzo abandoned his medical studies due to a nervous breakdown and set out to become a painter instead, enrolling in the Taiheiyo Gakai Institute in 1909. The next year, he transferred to the Aoibashi Research Institute for Western-Style Painting (Yoga Kenkyujo) of the Hakuba-kai artists’ association, and in 1912, he enrolled in the Hongo Institute for Western-Style Painting founded by OKADA Saburosuke and FUJISHIMA Takeji.
Junzo’s first work accepted by a major exhibition was “Early Autumn in the Park,” which was selected for the Seventh Ministry of Education Art Exhibition (Bunten) in 1913, followed by “Flowers and Fruit” for the Tokyo Taisho Exposition in the next year, “Still Life” for the Fifth Kofukai Exhibition hosted by the Kofukai Art Association in 1917, and “Balalaika” for the First Imperial Fine Arts Academy Exhibition (Teiten) in 1919. While launching his career as a painter, Junzo also handled scenography for shingeki (new drama) theater productions and worked for the design department of the cosmetic company Shiseido in 1921.
In the wake of the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, Junzo moved to Aomori City and shifted his focus to printmaking, undertaking the study and production of copperplate prints and lithographs. He was contracted as a drawing teacher by Aomori Prefectural Normal School in 1927. Around this time, he began to assist his older brother Wajiro’s research on “modernology” by producing detailed sketches of life in Aomori. A collection of some of Junzo’s such works was presented at an exhibition at the Kinokuniya bookstore in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district in 1927. At the time, Junzo’s studio was frequented by young aspiring artists who credited Junzo with contributing greatly to their artistic educations.
In 1933, Junzo left his position at Aomori Prefectural Normal School and was contracted by the editorial department of the To-o Nippo Press Company. He began publishing Aomori-ken Gafu (Picture album of Aomori Prefecture), consisting of copperplate prints and lithographs depicting natural scenery and customs throughout Aomori Prefecture from the perspective of modernity studies, which he completed in the following year with a total of twelve volumes (100 works). In 1935, he began producing his “Oirase Gorge” series of etchings as well as a collection of copperplate prints depicting landscapes and customs in Aomori Prefecture, continuing to work actively through the late 1930s. In 1936, he founded the Aomori Etching Society together with Masato Kawasaki and other copperplate printmakers, and in 1937, he began writing a series called “My Etching Techniques” in the monthly magazine “Etching” published by NISHIDA Takeo, which ran until April 1940.
In September 1939, Junzo moved to Tokyo with his family to make a fresh start as a printmaker. After the outbreak of World War II, he began working at an ink factory on referral from NISHIDA Takeo. In 1940, he took part in the founding of the Japan Etching Society, and in 1943, his book “New Printmaking Techniques,” the culmination of his research into printmaking, was published by the company Mikuni Shobo. However, as a result of overworking to bolster his impoverished livelihood, he developed pleurisy and died on September 28, 1944. After his death, his wife Setsu, who had devotedly supported Junzo as his production assistant, returned to Aomori. Although she died the following year when the city was bombed in the Great Aomori Air Raid, Junzo’s works miraculously survived the war undamaged. After the end of the war, in 1950, his book “New Printmaking Techniques” was republished by Tokyo Jeep Co., Ltd., thanks to the efforts of his brother Wajiro.


《Snowy Landscape》
etching, aquatint on paper