Thursday, June 9, 2011

Remembering Kazu Sano 1952 -2011

Return of the Jedi poster by Kazu Sano

My first exposure to the art of Kazu Sano was sometime in early 1983 when the spectacular movie poster for Return of the Jedi was unveiled. Being a huge Star Wars fan, I spent hours dissecting the details of that picture and admiring the skill of the artist that painted it. I could not decipher the initials "KS" in the lower right corner and it was many years later after I was already a working illustrator myself that  I finally figured out who Kazu Sano was and that he was the one who had created that beautiful poster.

In March of 2009, as part of my MFA studies with the University of Hartford, I got to meet Kazu and hear him speak in San Francisco. He recounted his journey as an artist and the challenges that he would he assign himself to in order to constantly improve his skills.

Before coming to the US from his native Japan in 1978 to study at the Academy of Art University, he painted a self portrait a day for an entire month. At another time when he was feeling a need to improve his color sense, he cut different shapes out of colored mat board and make the "Arrangement of the Day" which he would then base a small painting on.

Portrait of Frank Sinatra for the US Postal Service

Styracosaurus for a National Geographic article

Kazu used his talent and work ethic to propel him to a noteworthy career that included over 450 book covers, numerous movie posters and postage stamps as well many magnificent paintings for National Geographic. His constant experiments with surface and mediums led him to become a master of both acrylic and oil paint.

He told of his constant experimentation and how he finally arrived at his personal process of mounting canvas on Masonite to get the exact surface he loved to paint on. The tactile quality of his original paintings was impressive to behold when he laid out dozens of his works for our class to look at. I left that day feeling privileged to have seen his work and met the man.

Earlier this May I received word that Kazu was not doing well. I immediately wrote a note thanking him for his influence on me as an artist. I was saddened to hear earlier this week that he passed away on May 31 after a long battle with cancer. I hope that my note arrived in time for him to know of my esteem for him and his work. The illustration world has lost a great teacher and true master of the craft. His loss will be felt greatly- rest in peace Kazu. Additionaly, a beautiful tribute by friend  and artist Robert Hunt can be read here.

Kazu Sano website
Article on Kazu written by Paul Zdepski


Will Strong said...

Thanks for sharing Greg. I really didn't know that much about this guy. But I enjoyed his work without ever knowing it.

Tessa Lake said...

What a lovely post. I'm in the same boat as Will, I never knew Kazu Sano was but I knew his art. Such a shame that he's gone :(

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting such a great tribute to Kazu. It was indeed an honor to have met him.

Morgan said...

I am very sorry to hear of his passing. I met Kazu at Thomas Blackshear's house one day. During that time he passed on many things that I never forgot. His account of what he was thinking when he painted 4 apples has never left me. He spoke of the personality of each apple and how he painted a portrait of each one with that in mind. He was a very talented, thoughftul, giving person. He will not be forgotten.

morgan weistling

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing your own experience Morgan. I felt the same way after hearing his story and speaking with him. Fortunately for us, his work and lessons live on.

Jesse Draper said...

Thanks for posting this.

Mardi Speth said...

Thank you (and Paul) for the wonderful post. It indeed was a pleasure to have met Mr. Sano and to see the body of his work when our MFA class was in San Francisco. It makes me wonder if he was ill during that time. Rest in peace, Kazu.

TomHart said...

I just stumbled on this lovely post, and I'm glad I did. Thank you for sharing it. Morgan's experience is touching as well.

Not to segue to the mundane, but I'm intrigued by the mention of his personal method of mounting canvas on masonite. Can you elaborate on what you know about that?

Unknown said...

As I recall, he would just mount the raw canvas on on masonite and the canvas was always just a bit smaller than the board. He would pre-shrink the raw canvas and mount the dry canvas to the masonite using acrylic matte medium or acrylic modeling paste. he would then sand and gesso again when the mounting was dry. I think the raw edge of canvas he left around the sides was a nod to his Japanese heritage. Sometimes the edge would be evident in the cropped version of his work. I think lots of artists who like the combination of a hard surface with the feel of canvas use a variation of this method. I have done it myself.

TomHart said...

Very interesting. Thanks so much!