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