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Yuji Hiratsuka

Yuji Hiratsuka was born 1954 in Osaka, Japan. He has a B.S. in Art Education from Tokyo Gakugei University, an MA in printmaking from New Mexico State University and an MFA from Indiana University. He has been teaching printmaking and drawing since 1987 and until his retirement in 2022, served as a Professor of printmaking at Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR.

“Although my artwork is considered representational, I tend to address the metaphorical as opposed to realism. Throughout my career, the human body along with other elements such as garments, fruit, vegetables, furniture and animals has been my focus. While my images have some resemblance to traditional Japanese Ukiyo-e prints, their sense of whimsy, satire and irony relates more closely to contemporary life and western sensibilities.”

“The enigmatic figures I draw are reflections of human conditions and I depict daily life using wry humor, satire, whimsy, irony, paradox and the mismatches that often happen in people’s daily lives. My figures also employ a state of motion or movement suggesting an actor/actress who narrates a story in a play. The images in my intaglio prints are little figurines in action. They are cheerful, joyous and restless. My subjects are almost always happy people.”

Intaglio printmaking is a physically demanding process. Intaglio means to incise or cut. From his drawings, Hiratsuka etches figures, images and textures into 22-gauge copper plating to create troughs for the ink. Hiratsuka’s method is unique because he uses one plate to print four colors — black, yellow, red and blue in that order — instead of using one plate per color.

Between each color, Hiratsuka sands all of the previous etchings off the plate and prepares the areas for the next color. None of his work can ever be reproduced. It’s a arduous process that demands precision and patience. Between each color application, the paper must dry for days.

Hiratsuka uses Japanese washi paper, made from fibers of the Gampi tree, the Misumata shrub, the Mulberry bush, Bamboo, Hemp, Rice and other natural materials. The fibers, bark, flower petals and other inclusions provide great texture, character, strength and durability for his prints. To complete one print from start to finish takes roughly one month.

Although all prints in a series are created from the same plates, the difference in the texture and composition of each piece of handmade paper and each application of ink on the plate, makes each print unique. “My prints explore the complex relationship of paper, ink and etched plates to describe my thoughts, as well as the relationships which occur between figures and space to express other human experiences. I am always trying to push myself to achieve my best and present my viewers with the finest works I can create.”

Hiratsuka’s graphic work has been exhibited extensively in the Americas, Europe and Asia and he has received numerous awards in international competitions. Since 2010 he has had 18 solo shows in the US, as well as in Korea, Canada, Russia, Italy and Japan.

Hiratsuka's works can be found in The British Museum, The Smithsonian Museum of Asian Art, The Library of Congress, The Cleveland Art Museum, The Portland Art Museum, The  Cincinnati Art Museum, The New York Public Library, The Tokyo Central Museum, The  Panstwowe Museum (Poland) and The House of Humor and Satire (Bulgaria).

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