Artist Profile: Yuji Hiratsuka, Master Printer

photo 1Whether you’re a student, friend, or art enthusiast, the name Yuji Hiratsuka brings joy and surprise with his talent for creating cheerful figures in his original prints.

Hiratsuka has taught printmaking and drawing at Oregon State University for 22 years. He spends a great deal of time on campus and tries to make time to work in his home studio. The inside of his workspace includes varied pieces of copper with drawings he carefully etched. He says copper intaglio is his medium of choice because he likes to work in full color. “The copper yields very fine lines so the color transfers. Black and white is powerful, but for me color is bright and creates more dimensions. I challenge how many combinations I can do—which color comes first.”

For 30 years, figures have been Hiratsuka’s main subject. He enjoys the different costumes: traditional—like a paper doll, western/utopia garment, and some Victorian. His subjects are in pairs, mirror images of each other due to the specific process of printmaking. Many are in theater settings as part of a play. He credits ukiyo-e woodblock prints as an early influence on his work.

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Gavi Snider, a former student of Hiratsuka, explains his teaching style and her appreciation of him as an artist. “Yuji was a great teacher. He focuses a lot on fundamentals and technique. He has a really Zen approach to things, and a great sense of humor. I was his assistant in my senior year and it was equal parts hard work and hilarity.”

Hiratsuka is a humble artist. When referred to as a master printer, he smiles and begins to talk about specifics of printmaking. He uses ferric chloride in the acid bath, a chemical that is non-toxic. He holds up the bottle: “Why I’m still alive.”

His careful attention to detail shows in his work. He has another room upstairs with many windows, giving way to natural light that shines upon his pieces. In this studio many prints hang on the walls, stand upright in sets of various numbers, and grace the area with a happiness that comes across with bold sincerity.

He points out different fruits in many of his prints. “See, this one looks like an apple, but it’s not. They don’t exist,” he laughs. His amusement is infectious, and we’re soon looking at other pieces to spot the hybrid fruit.

When asked if the final product ever surprises him, he’s eager to say yes. “That’s the tricky part I enjoy. Not expected. Not bad. I just leave it. You can only control the ideas so far. This process controls you.” Ultimately, Hiratsuka wants his art to be enjoyed. “I want to make people happier.”

Hiratsuka’s work has been included in the British Museum, UK; Tokyo Central Museum, Japan; Freer/Sackler, the Smithsonian’s Museum of Asian Art, Washington, D.C.; the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; Panstwowe Museum, Poland; the House of Humor and Satire, Bulgaria; Cincinnati Art Museum, OH; Jundt Art Museum, WA; and the Portland Art Museum, OR.

An upcoming show is scheduled for September at the Benton County Historic Museum in Philomath.

By Mandy Clark

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