Hiratsuka Un'ichi (平塚運一 1895-1997), born in Matsue, Honshû, was a preeminent leader of the sôsaku hanga (creative print: 創作版画) movement whose influence was widespread and profound. He first exhibited prints in 1916 at the Nika-kai (Second Division Society). Starting in 1928, he taught or influenced many artists, including Munakata Shikô (1903-1975). From 1935 to 1944, Hiratsuka taught the first block-printing course sanctioned at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts, representing a seminal moment in the recognition of printmaking as a serious art form in Japan. After moving to Washington, D.C. in 1962, he spent 33 years in the U.S., where three presidents commissioned prints from him depicting American national landmarks. While still in the U.S., Hiratsuka became the first printmaker to be awarded the Order of Cultural Merit by the Japanese government in 1970. The Hiratsuka Un'ichi Print Museum opened in Suzaka, Nagano Prefecture in 1991. He returned to Japan in 1994.
Hiratsuka developed a block-cutting technique called tsukibori ("poking strokes"), achieved by carving with a small square-end chisel (aisuki) while rocking the blade side to side in short strokes while pushing along the lines and shapes in his designs. The result was rough and jagged edges that animated his compositions. He worked in both monochrome (often using a glossy black pigment) and color. His use of black is particularly admired, about which he was quoted by Oliver Statler: "To me, black and white have always been the most beautiful of colors. For some subjects, I feel I must go into other colors, but I know that generally my work weakens when I do. With its special beauties, a black and white has special problems. To borrow musical terms, a black and white must have a rhythm of line and mass and a harmony of straight lines and curves. One of the great difficulties is to make the white space live."* In regard to his jagged lines, Hiratsuka added, "This rough line came out of my search for greater strength and a feeling of solid mass. It's for the same reason that I make my black as intense as I can get it: my black ink is the very finest sumi from Kyoto, and I make impression after impression until the color seeps deep into the paper."*
The Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion, 銀閣寺), officially named Jishô-ji (慈照寺, based on Yoshimasa's Buddhist name; lit. "Temple of Shining Mercy"), is a Zen temple (Buddhist Shokoku School of the Rinzai Zen sect) near Kyoto's eastern mountains in Higashiyama. In 1482, the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1436-90) built his retirement villa on the grounds of today's temple, modeling it after Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion, 金閣寺), his grandfather's retirement villa at the base of Kyoto's northern mountains, "Kitayama." Yoshimasa's villa was converted into a Zen temple after his death in 1490. The art-obsessed shogun turned Ginkaku-ji into a cultural center, known as the "Higashiyama Culture," in contrast to his grandfather's "Kitayama Culture." Whereas the Kitayama Culture was limited to the aristocratic elite of Kyoto, the Higashiyama Culture had a broad impact on the entire country. Encouraged by Yoshimasa and others, the arts developed and refined during the Muromachi period (1338-1573) included the tea ceremony, flower arrangement, Nô theater, poetry, garden design, and architecture.
This is a fine example of Hiratsuka's approach to composition in sumi ink. The scene resonates with detail, animated by the tsukibori technique (see detail image) and the rhythmic placement of forms and lines. Note, as well, the strategic use of unprinted areas, which opens up the overall space, avoids overcrowding of details, and establishes contrasts with the rhythms and densities of the rich black sumi ink. The warm color of the paper (which is not tonedor discolored) evokes the time of year (early summer), as mentioned in the title.
Works by Hiratsuka are held in many public institutions, including the Art Institute of Chicago; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Tokyo Museum of Modern Art; Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC; Boston Museum of Fine Art; New York Metropolitan Museum; Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; the British Museum, London; Honolulu Academy of Arts; Cincinnati Art Museum; and Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh.
References: * Statler, Oliver, Modern Japanese Prints: An Art Reborn. Tuttle: VT, 1956, pp. 37-38; Helen Merritt and Bernd Jesse, Hiratsuka: Modern Master. Art Institute of Chicago, 2001.