Stencil Master Hiromitsu Takahashi
By Hillary Tolman
Steve here: I have asked Hillary Tolman to tell us about print-maker Hiromitsu Takahashi. Hilary’s renowned gallery, The Tolman Collection, has been run by her family in Tokyo for 35 years.
Hillary Tolman: Our family has always referred to Hiromitsu as “The Last of the Kappazuri Masters.” Kappa-zuri is the traditional Japanese art of stencil, for use in both textile design and print-making. Unless Hiromitsu finds a student who wishes to make this technique his or her own, it will probably die out as a mode of print-making as no one today has the required training to keep this intricate art alive.
Son of print artist Isao Takahashi and textile designer Toshiko Soeda, Hiromitsu has been influenced by the work of both of his parents. His father was an abstract artist who worked in kappa-zuri, which is how Hiromitsu learned his craft. His mother’s influence is also obvious. One need only look at the gorgeous kimono patterns in Hiromitsu’s prints to see what he learned from her, though all the non-traditional textiles in his work are of his own design. Hiromitsu is considered, in his own right, to be the heir to renowned master kappa-zuri artist, Yoshitoshi Mori (1898-1992).
Hiromitsu still uses handmade washi paper from a stock that his father purchased years ago in order to be of assistance to the papermakers of Iwate, in northern Japan. His detailed prints abound with botanical imagery, be it peonies in a kimono pattern or cherry blossom petals floating gently across a background; this is very much in keeping with the Japanese sense that seasonality must be observed and celebrated. Japanese artists tend to make smaller editions than their European and American counterparts but Hiromitsu’s editions are even smaller than most: rarely more than 20 images of one work are printed. Hiromitsu is inspired by the rich cultural heritage of the Kabuki theatre; many of his brightly colored prints vividly depict scenes from plays, both famous and esoteric, or actors in dramatic and intense poses.
Because the artist is so Japanese in terms of technique and subject matter, do not for a minute imagine that he is insular or lacks appeal to a foreign audience. Hiromitsu’s work is well represented in major international museum collections – The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, The Cincinnati Art Museum, The Museum of Arts and Crafts, Hamburg, Germany, The Rockefeller Foundation, The Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art, Israel, The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, England and the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., to name but a few.
In these days of globalization, Hiromitsu-san can serve as a light to those Japanese who may have lost their Japanese ways. His subject matter – the Kabuki – is traditional, the technique by which he expresses his ideas – kappa-zuri – is traditional, and the very paper on which he prints his carefully cut stencils – washi – is traditional. The only tragic part of the story is that there seems to be no one to continue this uniquely Japanese art form.
Hilary Tolman's family has been running the renowned Tokyo-based gallery, The Tolman Collection, for over 35 years.