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Biography: TAKAHASHI Hiromitsu (高橋宏光)

Takahashi Hiromitsu photo
Takahashi Hiromitsu

Hiromitsu's brushed signature


Takahashi Hiromitsu stencil print YanoneTAKAHASHI 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 to 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 are understandably reminiscent of Mori's, but they maintain a style that is 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.

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."

Hiromitsu does not produce portraits of actual actors, but rather stylized figures in kabuki roles. To date, he has designed more than 300 kappazuri-e, with the earliest from 1984. Some of his stencil prints were produced in large format and very small editions (as few as 5 numbered impressions). The design shown above, circa 1985-1987, was issued in only 15 impressions. 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 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.

For more information about Takahashi Hiromitsu, see John Fiorillo's web page: