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Utamaro print showing

 

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TAKAHASHI Hiromitsu (高橋宏光)

 

Takahashi Hiromitsu (高橋宏光) was born in Tokyo in 1959 and graduated from Nihon University, Tokyo in 1982. He prefers using his given name in signing his art, as the surname "Takahashi" is a very common in Japan. Hiromitsu's parents, the print artist Takahashi Isao and the textile-dyeing artist Soeda Toshiko, were assistants to Mori Yoshitoshi and the katazome (stencil dyeing: 型染め) designer Serizawa Keisuke (芹沢銈介 1895–1984). As a result, they introduced their son to the technique of stencil printmaking (kappazuri: 合羽摺). Hiromitsu's works in that medium (the first date from 1984) are understandably reminiscent of Mori's, but they maintain a style that is easily recognizable as his own. For one thing, kabuki is his singular theme, whereas Mori roamed more widely in his subject matter. As a result, a great number of Hiromitsu's designs rely on the stop-action mie ("display" or dramatic pose: 見得) that characterizes many celebrated climactic moments in kabuki.

Takahashi Hiromitsu: Yanone (Arrowhead: 矢の根), c. 1985-87
Kappazuri-e (stencil print), edition no. 9/15; 760 x 671mm

Given that Mori is now gone and Hiromitsu is no longer young, some observers worry that he might be the last true modern kappazuri print artist. Indeed, Hiromitsu once said that, "I never set out to be an artist, you know. I graduated from Nihon University with an undergraduate degree in law and worked for a while as a salesman for Sanrio, but I didn't feel at home in the business world. I realized that I really wanted to make art. When my parents were printing for Mori Yoshitoshi, I learned about kappazuri (stencil printing) and I wanted to keep that tradition going. The only people I knew of who were printing in that style were old. I am determined to keep kappazuri alive."

Takahashi Hiromitsu yanone IIHiromitsu does not produce portraits of actual actors, but rather stylized figures in kabuki roles. To date, he has designed more than 300 kappazuri-e. Some of his stencil prints were produced in large format and very small editions (as few as 5 numbered impressions). The design shown above was issued in only 15 impressions circa 1985-1987. The subject is "Yanone" (Arrowhead: 矢の根) from the array of wildly popular puppet and kabuki dramas recounting the revenge of the Soga brothers (Soga monogatari: Tales of the Soga, 曾我物語絵). In the scene depicted here, Soga Gorô falls asleep while sharpening and polishing a huge arrowhead, dreaming that his brother Soga Jûrô is in trouble. He awakens, grabs the horse of a passing farmer, and using a huge radish as a whip, rides off to the rescue. The Ichikawa acting family made the drama one of its Kabuki jûhachiban (Eighteen favorite plays: 歌舞伎十八番).

Hiromitsu's use of a dark gray background and an intensely rendered black and white figure results in a dramatic portrayal of the Arrowhead scene. In 1987 Hiromitsu also designed a reworked large-format version of this subject in bright primary and secondary colors, in an edition of 20 titled "Yanone II" (840 x 600 mm; see image at right). Note the addition of the butterflies, Gorô's conventional crest. Even later, he produced a very similar but recut (again) small-format version in a edition of 100 (619 x 127 mm; see M.2011.137.16 in the LA County Museum of Art).

Hiromitsu has exhibited in numerous solo and group shows around the world. His works can be found in many public institutions, including the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Australia; Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, England; Cincinnati Art Museum; Hameenlinna Art Museum, Finland; Honolulu Museum of Art; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Museum of Arts and Crafts, Hamburg; Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts; Portland Art Museum; Singapore National Museum; Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art, Haifa, Israel; and Victoria Arts Center Trust, Melbourne. © 2020-2022 by John Fiorillo

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Graybill, Maribeth (ed.): The Artist's Touch, The Craftsman's Hand; Three Centuries of Japanese Prints from the Portland Art Museum. Oregon: Portland Art Museum, 2011. p. 326, no. 177.
  • Kominz, Laurence: "Ya no ne: The Genesis of a Kabuki Aragoto Classic," in: Monumenta Nipponica, vol. 38, no. 4 (Winter 1983), 387-407.
  • Martineau, Lucas: Takahashi Hiromitsu: DyEing Art of Kappazuri. 2020.
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