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Three contemporary "Japanese" printmakers from 3 continents - Yuji Hiratsuka living in Oregon, Portland, U.S.A., Paul Binnie from London and Tom Kristensen from Sydney in Australia. Their techniques, subjects and styles are very different - and even their career stages with Yuji and Paul as internationally recognized artists whose works are in museums, and Tom as the new star who made his first print only a year ago. They do have three things in common: They are represented by artelino, they are great artists, and they are nice and likeable people without any airs and graces.
This article was written as background information for auction no. 192, taking place from July 10 until July 14, 2005.
Of the three artists represented on this page, Yuji Hiratsuka is the most renowned and established. His print works are in the collections of major museums like the Achenbach Foundation in San Francisco, The British Museum in London, the Tokyo Central Museum, the Museum of Modern Art in New York (Moma) and the New York Public Library. Once you are in the collections of such museums, you have by and large reached the highest level of public recognition a contemporary artist can strive for.
We admired his prints long before we had our first contact with Yuji Hiratsuka. These strange, distorted bodies looked so whimsical and mysterious. These colors of yellow mixed with tones of ros� and green, they were like a feast for the eyes. We liked these prints spontaneously, but we did not understand much what the strange gestures and titles really were about. We thought that Yuji's work was easily accessible to everyone - a spontaneous love story.
Today we think that we were wrong. For many viewers Yuji's intellectual and sophisticated art works may not lead to a quick love affair, but rather to love at second sight. As it is in real life, love at second sight usually lasts longest.
Hiratsuka's art work is a world of its own. It is like a unique language that the artist has developed. We as viewers can look at his works from a purely personal, emotional approach - without thinking too much. Or one day we might be tempted to delve into Yuji's language, deciphering a piece here and a piece there. Like looking at old Egyptian hieroglyphics. They are nice and fascinating to look at, but when you can read them, you appreciate them more deeply.
We are far away from having deciphered Yuji's art language, but at least we have begun to understand a bit. The key to a deeper appreciation of Yuji Hiratsuka's art work seems to lie in Zen Buddhism - for instance the concept of nothingness and the meaning of the human face.
Yuji Hiratsuka has not only developed his own art language, but his own technique as well. It is a labor-intensive process usually described as etching combined with chine coll�. The artist described the printmaking process himself - see his biography. Basically the image is transferred on a very thin Japanese paper. The paper with the image is firmly pressed and glued to a heavy rag paper. When you hold the final print in your hands, you will not recognize that it was made from two different papers - it appears as one. A print by Yuji Hiratsuka has always a bit of a look and feel like it came from a different world.
There have always been artists whose works do not fit into any of the major movements, styles and trends of their times; like the Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder (ca. 1525-1569), Francisco de Goya (1746-1828), Henri Rousseau (1844-1910) or Paul Klee (1879-1940). In the genre of Japanese woodblock prints some famous artists are also hard to categorize: Kyosai Kawanabe (1831-1889) or Paul Jacoulet (1902-1960) for instance. Yuji Hiratsuka is in our opinion among those few artists of pronounced creativity and individualism who elude any superficial categorization.
Yuji's place upon the olymp of artists has been reserved for him a long time ago. The interpretation of his work will one day keep art historians and book publishers busy.
We discovered Paul Binnie on the internet in 2001. At that time his woodblock prints consisted mainly of a series of kabuki images that he had created during a stay in Tokyo of nearly 6 years. Dieter then made a rather daring statement on one of our pages on artelino.
"... I would not be astonished if Paul became one of the great names among the artists of the 21st century."
Since then Paul has not disappointed us. He has shown an impressive progress both in his artistic creations and in his career.
Binnie's paragons are the great shin hanga artists. Most of these specialized in a certain theme: Natori Shunsen in kabuki actor prints, Hasui Kawase in landscape images, Ito Shinsui in bijin (beautiful women) prints and Koson Ohara in kacho-e (images of birds and flowers). Many of today's contemporary Japanese printmakers specialize even more - for instance Yoshiharu Kimura in depictions of birds or Fumio Fujita in tree images.
Binnie is quite the opposite. Back in London, he made a series of cloud prints. He observed and sketched the cloud images from his balcony. Next he started a series of landscape prints - Views of Japan. In 2003 he astonished his growing community of admirers again - this time with a series of bijin prints, titled The Four Seasons. Last but not least, a rather special genre: Japanese tattoo prints.
Paul's secret to success? In our view a combination of superb craftmanship, natural giftedness and hard work. While the shin hanga artists - with a few exceptions like Hiroshi Yoshida - did not carve or print themselves, Paul Binnie does the complete process of creating a print himself. And he uses the most elaborate techniques and features. The results are prints that would have ranked among the old ukiyo-e printmakers as deluxe versions.
Binnie acquired the tools of his trade during long years of study and training. When he was 18 years old, in 1985, he went to study a joint degree at Edinburgh University and Edinburgh College of Art. And 5 years later, in 1990, Paul earned his MA (hons) in Fine Art. The degree was a combination of art history at the University - specializing in Asian art, japonism and ukiyo-e - and of painting, drawing and (Western) printmaking at the College of Art. After this formal art training Binnie spent several years in Tokyo with Seki Kenji, an experienced woodblock printer and carver. In hindsight he calls this apprenticeship. Seki Kenji taught Binnie the exacting techniques of carving and printing.
Modern art of the twentieth century put - in our view - an exaggerated emphasis on creativity. The trend in the 21st century - again in our view - is a return to craftmanship. For this reason, and also because Paul is a multi-cultural and global artist, we think he will one day be one of the great names in art history of the 21st century.
Tom Kristensen is a self-taught woodblock printmaker from Australia. We have known him as a collector for several years. But he never mentioned that he was also an artist. Around the New Year of 2005 we found a surprise greeting card in our letter box. It was a little woodblock in black and white, and we had to ask Tom to further reveal his talents. Several months later the first woodblock prints in color arrived. They were the first designs of a landscape series depicting 36 views of Green Island in Australia.
We were impressed and intended to introduce Tom Kristensen with an article and by occasionally presenting one or two of his prints in our regular auctions. Then a shipment for a planned Chinese auction special went astray. We decided to set up a Tom Kristensen auction special instead - showing the first twelve designs of 36 Views of Green Island.
Then came the second surprise. At auction end Tom's prints were sold out and the final results were something like 50% above reserves.
Self-taught does not mean technically challanged. Kristensen has learned everything on the internet. The Baren Forum, a meeting platform for printmakers on the internet was his main source of learning. Tom works in the tradition of Japanese moku hanga. All prints are self-carved and hand printed, using Japanese tools, Japanese mulberry washi and traditional pigment colors. Each print is made from 4 to 6 blocks and printed in an edition of 25 copies.
Since his first auction with artelino Kristensen has continued to work on the 36 Views of Green Island series. We have offered his prints several times in our regular Japanese Collector Auctions. Tom's prints have continued to be "sure-fire cracker-jack sellers" - to use a lovely expression borrowed from the late Robert O. Muller.
By the way, we are not the only ones and not even the first to present Tom Kristensen. Eric van den Ing from Saru Gallery (co-author of the classic text on Yoshitoshi - Beauty and Violence) introduced Kristensen in his online gallery. In 2000 Mr. van den Ing was also the first to introduce Paul Binnie to the online community. Obviously he has a keen eye for promising, young artists.
After Tom's early success, we thought we should support his further steps with our well-intentioned advice. Well intended, but complete nonsense. In the current state Tom Kristensen must find his own way. We are convinced he will.
Dieter and Yorie
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