HIRATSUKA Yuji - 平塚 雄二 (b. 1954)
intaglio / chine collé
When I asked Yuji Hiratsuka why he moved to the US from Japan in 1985, I never expected to hear that it was quite by chance. After graduating from Tokyo Gakugei University Yuji moved back home to Osaka and taught art to middle-and high-school students. It was unfulfilling work for him at the time, although it provided a steady income. When he spotted an advertisement in the World Print Council Quarterly magazine for a graduate assistantship position at New Mexico State University, he applied right away and was accepted. Eventually he moved to Oregon where he has been a professor of printmaking at Oregon State University in Corvallis since 1992.
The Portland Art Museum has been holding a fine print fair for the past few years, and my participation in the fair is my annual opportunity to see him. He invariably brings his students to the fine print fair; it is a good chance for them to see all the different types of prints that there are, and a welcome opportunity for Hiratsuka to explore the work of a range of artists himself. I am always impressed by his rapport with the students who are clearly devoted to him. Knowing his lively personality, I am sure that his classes are dynamic! Displaying his prints in my booth means that he will stop by and unpack the information for those interested. People gather around as he points to one element after another, recalling how he decided to include it.
His are not merely colorful, whimsical prints with the added distinctive feature that the people represented in the work have no eyes. For Yuji, eyes reveal the innermost essence of a person; by not including them, the viewer of his work needs to figure out their own reaction to his creations.
He is inspired by a multitude of sources: images from a fashion magazine, ukiyo-e woodblocks from past centuries, impressions from overseas trips. He also has great fun coming up with the titles of his works, sometimes resorting to making up words that seem to fit the mood of his pieces. (see Featheriel). The artist admits to not having any control over the concepts that pop into his mind and says that sometimes he has so many ideas swirling around that there is no time to get them on paper.
Yuji’s medium is etching. Use of multiple colors would usually mean that multiple plates are required. Color is of supreme importance to him, especially black, yellow, red, and blue, which he prints, one color at a time, from the same copper plate.
He prints at home and acknowledges that he is lucky to have a large amount of space in Oregon, as opposed to more cramped work spaces of his colleagues in Japan.
Yuji’s prints are often described as charming, colorful, amusing but most importantly, thought provoking. What is going on in this scene? What is the story? It is the artist’s invitation to engage our imagination.