Yuji Hiratsuka was born in Osaka, Japan. In 1985 he moved to the United States to pursue graduate degrees in printmaking at New Mexico State University (M.A.) and at Indiana University (M.F.A.). He has navigated a distinguished career as an artist, winning numerous awards for his work. He continues to exhibit internationally and has work in many museum collections including: The British Museum, London; Tokyo Central Museum, Japan; Panstwowe Museum, Poland; The House of Humor and Satire, Bulgaria; Cincinnati Art Museum, OH; Jundt Art Museum, WA; and Portland Art Museum, OR. His work communicates a personal narrative through a carefully crafted visual language of symbolism and metaphor. It expresses the accumulated experience of his cultural heritage, which itself is a synthesis of Japanese tradition and globalized western consumerism, and his everyday life in the US. While he acknowledges traditional Japanese Ukiyo-e prints in the construct of his craft, his imagery has a satirical sense of whimsy relating more closely to contemporary life and western sensibilities.
"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. 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."
Yuji Hiratsuka is an exceptional artist and respected teacher. Teaching has been a constant through his career. He has taught at several US universities, settling in 1992 at Oregon State University. As an Associate Professor he has supported and influenced many Northwest printmakers, instilling a great love for printmaking techniques. He explains how this process orientated medium intertwines through the creation of his own imagery and narrative, saying, ,"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 thoughts, 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." Yuji combines multi layered, color etching and chine collé techniques. He has developed a process of reworking the copper plate to create each color layer. "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.” As with other reductive printmaking techniques this is a risky process - once the plate is altered, there is no going back. As the plate is continuously scraped, burnished and reworked, once the edition is complete, there is no way of repeating the process to increase or repeat the edition. This time-consuming printing process requires a lot of skill and experience.
The artists chosen paper is Toyama Kozo (Japanese Mulberry), which lends itself to repeated printing, but is very thin. It is also slightly translucent, allowing the artist to sometimes apply final color from the back with a relief process, such as woodcut or linocut. This is a way to intensify shapes and/or colors. With the exception of his largest prints, he uses a chine collé process to adhere the final work to a heavier rag paper. This allows the saturated and subtle tones that come through the Toyama Kozo paper appear set deep into the texture of the cotton rag paper.