Takeshi Takahara believes in the handmade, the one-of-a-kind, the idiosyncratic. This might seem a counterintuitive attitude in an accomplished master of intaglio printmaking, a medium which embodies the aesthetic of the multiple and reproducible. But in his first solo show at WSG Gallery he demonstrates that his unique, eco-friendly hybrid intaglio/woodcut process for creating small print editions (often only 5 to 9 per title) can deliver artworks that pack all the punch of a one-of-a-kind painting.
Imperfection, a meticulously curated and well arranged grouping of prints on the theme of the lotus, is on view in the gallery from now until October 22. Images that might seem banal in the hands of a lesser artist–who hasn’t seen a thousand pictures of a lily pond?– gain a kind of archetypal resonance through his drawn line which manages to be both awkward and graceful, with an effortful visual stutter that is reminiscent of the knowing clumsiness of Henri Matisse or Paul Klee. Through constant experimentation in the studio he has adapted the process of intaglio printmaking, replacing the metal plate and acid with a less toxic combination of materials while still retaining the sharpness of the cut line. His beautiful-but-not-pretty colors are carefully mixed from watercolor and dry pigments purchased in Japan.
Takahara relishes the way in which each print is a document which can be seen through multiple stages on its way to the final version. “In printmaking, you can actually print images step by step and have it. By looking at that proof, you make additions or deletions and move onto another print again and compare those two and see the differences…You get to rethink, revise and remake your original ideas.” He describes himself as uninterested in producing large editions of his prints, preferring instead to experiment with the infinite possibilities of changing and adapting each plate and combining them in endlessly varied ways. “Repetition is not my forte,” he says, laughing.
Born in midcentury China to Japanese parents, Takeshi Takahara came to the U.S. to escape his future as the eldest son of a traditional Asian family. He was expected to get a good education and to enter a respectable profession, which fine art certainly wasn’t. “If I’d stayed in Japan, I’d be working in a bank,” he says.
His first stop in the U. S. was Smith College, where he studied with renowned sculptor and printmaker Leonard Baskin. Studies at the newly formed school of printmaking at the University of Iowa followed, where he was mentored by Mauricio Lasansky, considered by many to be one of the fathers of modern printmaking. Although he is now a veteran artist and teacher, this is Takahara’s first experience with an artist-run gallery.
Takeshi Takahara is currently hard at work creating new prints on the theme of the lotus, which has deep symbolic meaning for him. The lotus rises from the muck and produces a beautiful pure flower, a metaphor for the human condition. “We all come from the same muck, and what we become as human beings is the flower,” he says.
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