A few months ago we visited with Yuji Hiratsuka in his Corvallis home studio. Yuji is a printmaker represented by the Augen Gallery in the Pearl District and professor at Oregon State University.
Duplex: What is the start of you print process?
Yuji Hiratsuka: I start with drawings. Then I transfer onto tracing paper then transfer to copper plate. This process is color printing, but I use one plate. I make 15 editions in black then, I erase it using a sanding machine, it takes about half a day working from coarse to fine until it is almost flat and shiny again. I intentionally leave the important contour lines so that I can leave those lines for the color separation. Then I etch again for the next color: black, yellow, red then blue. I start with the black always because I need to see the key. In commercial printing color goes first and black goes over, but I don’t do that because it’s a little bit more confusing for me.
I always make a pair of figures because I cook this hot plate for one hour and would have nothing to do, so I make a second one. I always make two or three. When I sometimes finish the first figure I swap the image for the second one.
D: Are you doing a series of work in this theme?
YH: These are the only two, always only in pairs, maybe sometimes four, but mostly only two.
This package just came. It is a collection of prints from various artists. Printmakers do a lot of swapping. I do this a lot. Let’s take a look. I know a lot of the printmakers in the state, lot of them are educators too. You get to know everybody via these exchanges. We get very close.
D: So they put together a collection of prints in send them around?
YH: Yeah, and I bring them into the students to pass around.
D: How did you end up at OSU?
YH: I applied to a few schools for teaching positions, and the economy was good in 1992, I was teaching at Colorado Springs. It was good, but it was not a permanent position. I applied to Southern Oregon and in Wisconsin. OSU required more art making than Southern Oregon because it is a research school, and Wisconsin seemed a little isolated. So I chose Oregon State.
D: Where do you get a lot of your imagery?
YH: You can tell the style is definitely mine, I like graphic aspects, and the faces are more aligned with traditional Japanese Ukiyo-e prints in a flattened style. Flat but also decorative, lots of kimono designs and elements on the outfits. I like the figure plus something else, the figure is always there. I like the bright colors and a lot of red.
D: Did you always know you wanted to be a printmaker?
YH: In Japan I started in an art school high school. They had architecture, graphic design, fine arts, photography and I was able to choose fine arts at 15. I was exposed to printmaking towards the end, I started with lithography, screen printing, etching. Then I went to a teacher’s college and after I started teaching middle school and high school. I saved money to apply to grad school in the US and ended up going to New Mexico State. They gave me money, so why not? I went to Indiana State too.
D: How many editions do you make?
YH: It depends, but usually 15. The each pair is an edition of 15, and sometimes people buy them separately.
I also teach bookbinding.
YH: I submitted this for a gallery but they accepted the smaller books. Maybe they were worried about it being too big.
D: If you make a print and it doesn’t turn out how you want it to does it end up as bookbinding?
YH: Yeah, you don’t have to trash it.
D: It adds such a nice touch too. Are these books completely hand made by you?
YH: Yes they are one of a kind, but it’s not worth making more unless I get a commission. One is enough!
Prints have an advantage because I can make the books just as easily as a single edition. I can also connect to other people by exchanging prints.
D: How many prints have you made?
YH: I have been doing this since 20 years ago and I have lots of time to work on but right now it is busy. I print just on Saturday and Sunday, so 1 edition complete each month, 12 a year, 10 years is 120, 20 is 240, so I guess 5,600 easy. But some are gigantic and it takes more time.
D: Do you have a catalog raisonné?
YH: Yes! You can see part of it at The Augen Gallery.