The graphic work of Yuji Hiratsuka is a witty and original synthesis of old Japanese ukiyo-e tradition and modern Western elements and has not only conquered numerous awards in national and international competitions, but also the hearts of an international community of collectors.
Hiratsuka sees Japan as a land of contrasts. On the surface it looks rather westernized with McDonald and Coca Cola. But underneath the facade traditional Japanese culture and values remained unchanged. The artist mentions two examples:
"For example, Japanese gardens are cultivated high atop thirty story Western skyscrapers, or people dine on McDonald's hamburgers while watching Sumo wrestling. In my work I explore this chaotic coexistence."
Hiratsuka was raised - like probably most young Japanese - among this mixture of East and West. And his art works are a kind of mirror of these contrasts - and as such designed by the artist.
Yuji Hiratsuka was born in Osaka, Japan. In 1973 until 1978 he studied at Tokyo Gakugei University, Koganei-shi, Tokyo, Japan. In 1978 he graduated with a BS (Batchelor of Science) in Art Education.
In 1985 the young artist, then 33 years old, decided to take a plane in Eastern direction, and moved to the United States. Hiratsuka has not been the first one to make this step. Many Japanese artists of the 20th century went to the United States - some for studies, others for teaching. Some remained only one or two years in the U.S.A. and others forever.
Yuji Hiratsuka has stayed until now in his new homeland. He first extended and intensified his studies. From 1985 until 1987 he made his MA (Master of Arts) in printmaking at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, NM. And from 1987 until 1990 he studied at Indiana University, Bloomington, and graduated with an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) in printmaking.
In 1987 Hiratsuka began to work as an art instructor. Since 1992 he is an Associate Professor at the Department of Art, Oregon State University in Corvallis.
Yuji Hiratsuka is a nice and friendly personality. He is overt and uncomplicated, and he belongs to the minority of artists who try to give explanations of their art work. It is certainly easier to express yourself when you have a message. And Yuji Hiratsuka has something to say - in a language that everybody can understand. Well - let's give the word to the artist. Here is an excerpt from one of his statements.
"There are many and varied points of view in modern Japan. Some survive from historic periods of significant aesthetic and philosophical development. Two periods in particular contribute to what is known as traditional Japanese art."
"During the first, in the middle of the 16th century, the Shogun lords closed Japan to all foreign interactions and evolved an art independent of Chinese models. The most important influence was the simplicity born in the spirit of the Zen sect. Art based on Zen was an art of suggestion rather than expression; it emphasized the importance of empty spaces and simple forms."
"The second period is the Edo era of the 17th century in which the Ukiyo-e school developed a popular art form, largely prints and reproductions, inexpensively designed for common people. Ukiyo-e art was decorative and brightly colored and often featured poster-like caricatures of national personalities (Yakusha-e)."
"In my work I draw from the ancient and the contemporary to express the mismatched combinations and hodgepodge which is Japanese daily life. The Zen aspect can be seen in my portraits. In this case, I always leave the face blank or flat and profile very simple."
"I do not draw eyes or noses on my portraits. The human face is always changing; the face at work is different from the face that enjoys the love. Aging changes the faces also. I want my prints to express this change. The portraits are left ambiguous so that the viewer can add his/her interpretation. This is the aspect of suggestion rather than expression. Also, I am interested in the humorous and colorful aspects of Ukiyo-e poster art."
"In my portraits I want to incorporate an element of wit through exaggeration and distortion. For emphasis, I fill in small areas with bright, whimsical colors. To express contemporary influences I use the figure dressed in Western style. My primary source of subject matter is photographs, frequently black and white, which I tear from books, magazines and newspapers. These materials are kept in my studio or in my bag, and whenever I am ready to begin a drawing for the print, I rummage through the wrinkled images."
"There are small transitions in my work from time to time, and my interest is always based on unpredictable texture that is printed from the etched surface of the copper plate. My prints explore the complex relationship of paper, ink and etched plates to describe my thought, as well as the relationship which occurs between figures and space to express other human experiences. Always I try to investigate the maximum potential available to me as a printmaker."
Hey, that is a statement that we all can understand! None of the usual high hog art mumble-jumble!
Hiratsuka's prints soon conquered the hearts of the American art aficionados. And from the U.S. his recognition spread out to Europe and Asia including Japan.
If you want to get to know some of the finest galleries for contemporary Japanese print art, just follow the exhibition traces of the artist. Here are a few, and the list is certainly not complete.
The artist uses a special printmaking technique, a mixed media combination of Chine Collé with etching. Again, Yuji Hiratsuka himself gives a perfect description of this time-consuming printing process that requires a lot of skill and experience.
"My personal technique using Chine Collé with traditional and innovative etching is the following:
With continuous alterations to a copper plate I print a sequence of black, yellow, red and blue, passing the same plate through the press for each design and color change.
To start with; the first tones to the plate are given with line etching, drypoint, aquatint, softground, photocopy transfer or roulette. I pull my first color. With these first impressions, I work back into the plate with a scraper, burnisher and emery paper to enhance the lights and accent the motif. I then go on to the second, third and fourth colors.
Finally, the print is completed from the back with a relief process of woodcut or linocut to intensify shapes and/or colors.
I print on the paper which best suits my work; this is a thin Japanese paper known as Toyama Kozo (Japanese Mulberry). As in the French use of Chine Colle I apply glue to the back of the Kozo print and pass it through the press, with a heavier rag paper (BFK Rives or Somerset, etc.) beneath. What the viewer sees; is my four color intaglio print saturated with subtle tones that come through the back of a Toyama Kozo paper which is set deep into a rag paper."
Hiratsuka has received numerous international awards. His print works are in the collections of major museums like for instance:
Author: Dieter Wanczura