"When I am painting children, I feel as though I am painting my own childhood."
I discovered this artist when I read a book called Totto-chan : The Little Girl at the Window. It was sprinkled with absolutely charming illustrations of children, that perfectly captured not only what it feels like to watch a child as an adult, but also what it felt like to be a child. Instantly I had to know more.
Chihiro Iwasaki was born in Takefu, Fukui Prefecture. Shortly thereafter her family moved to Tokyo, where she would live until the city was firebombed in May of 1945. She first studied art at age 15 under Saburosuke Okada. At 18 she graduated from high school and had a painting accepted for the Shuyo Exhibition of Western-style Painting by Women Artists. At 19, in 1937, she began to study calligraphy at the Fujuwara Kozei school. This study appears to have had significant influence on her subsequent work.
She was married briefly in 1939, but her husband died in Manchuria that same year. Chihiro fled Tokyo in 1945 and went to live with her grandmother in Nagano prefecture. In 1946 she joined the Japan Communist Party. That spring she returned to Tokyo and both wrote and illustrated for The People's Paper.
I'll admit to a sad preconception: I tend to assume members of the communist party are hard-line, ultra-left-wing militant Marxist maniacs, but there is no way that this obviously sensitive, brilliant artist could be like that. And yet she was clearly very committed to the communist ideal. This fact made me rethink everything I thought I knew about "communists". Meanwhile. . .
In 1950 she married a man named Zenmei Matsumoto. Their first son, Takeshi, was born in 1951. Although she had been interested in children's illustration before, it seems likely that the birth of her first son was a catalyst for later work. In 1956 she won the Juvenile Culture Award from Shogakukan Publishing for her magazine illustrations. From the mid-50's on Chihiro illustrated book after book for, winning prizes for many of them:
In 1974, Liver Cancer was detected, and she died on August 8 of that year.
Chihiro Iwasaki was very popular. Her children's books were critically acclaimed and sold well, and the tie-in with Tetsuko Kuroyanagi's wildly successfuly Totto-chan book only served to make her audience larger.
She has two museums dedicated to her and her work: The Chihiro Bijutsukan in her former Tokyo home, and the Azumino Chihiro Bijutsukan in Nagano.
Her pen & watercolor illustrations are pure visual poetry. I nearly cried the first time I saw her "Boy with One Knee Raised" painting. She captures childhood exactly in all its color and perfect innocence.
From her museum homepage: http://www.chihiro.or.jp/