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HIRATSUKA Unichi

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HIRATSUKA Unichi
Showa Sosaku Hanga Printmaker
Japanese, (1895–1997)
Hiratsuka Unichi was born in the old castle town of Matsue to a family of architects and builders. He grew up with a feeling for wood and tools, and began carving Chinese characters after the fashion of seal-makers he admired. He soon progressed to printmaking, and then, caught up in the enthusiasm for the postimpressionists which in that day was sweeping Japan, he turned to painting. When one of Japan's distinguished painters, Ishii Hakutei, came to Matsui to teach a brief course, and while there praised one of Hiratsuka's watercolors, the young man's career was set.

He came to Tokyo as soon as he was old enough, and for several years studied oil painting. Although he was enrolled at another school he never stopped going to Ishii for guidance. Ishii was a painter but he was also one of the early leaders of the creative print movement, a movement which for the first time in Japan brought the print under control of the artist.

In the spirit of the new movement, Hiratsuka carved his own blocks and did his own printmaking. In this way, Hiratsuka helped to make the woodblock an artist's medium, after an age of the print being scorned as an artisan's product. He became a leader in the fight to make the modern print meaningful and important, and long after that was acheived, to gain for the print some measure of recognition.

In response to studying the work of the great masters Moronobu and Sesshu, Hiratsuka found that his greatest joy was the simplest and strongest of color schemes, black and white. There are endless variations on this theme; his black is deep and intense, his line is not smooth but rough and jagged.

Hiratsuka has made color prints, and continues to paint in oil. Quite properly he considers himself an artist and will not be restricted to one medium, but the works on which his fame rests are the hundreds of black and white prints which are unmistakably his.


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