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  • Worcester Art Museum Exhibits Japanese Masters of Mezzotint

    (WORCESTER, Mass., August 17, 2004) - Sensual and dramatic prints in a new Worcester Art Museum exhibition exemplify how two pioneering Japanese artists elevated the traditional European mezzotint medium to a new height of creative expression.

    Japanese Masters of Mezzotint: Yozo Hamaguchi and Katsunori Hamanishi is on view at the Museum Sept. 4 through Nov. 28. A special reception will be held Friday, Sept. 10 from 5-8PM The event is open to the public with general Museum admission, and no reservations are needed.

    Throughout the last century, many Japanese print artists explored Western graphic art techniques. Mezzotint is a particularly exacting and laborious printmaking process. Invented in Amsterdam in the 17th century, engraving in mezzotint was used in Europe to reproduce paintings, especially portraits. By roughening a copper plate with a fine-toothed tool called a “rocker,” mezzotint artists create gentle tonal gradations and dramatic lighting effects. With the invention of photography in the mid-19th century, the mezzotint medium became obsolete.

    Hamaguchi (1909-2000) and Hamanishi (b. 1949) transformed the mezzotint process through their technical skills in rendering tones ranging from deepest black to white and rich vibrant colors. Endowing simple subject matter with extraordinary meaning, Hamaguchi celebrated the delicate beauty of vessels, fruits, vegetables, and insects he saw while living in France. Hamanishi linked and juxtaposed ropes, tree branches, pipes, and areas of color to suggest cryptic, playful riddles.

    “The mezzotint medium is dramatic in its ability to summon subjects out of intense darkness and endow them with substance through shading, highlights, textures, and characteristic details,” explained Curator of Asian Art Louise E. Virgin. “Hamaguchi and Hamanishi have through their supreme skills revived and elevated the mezzotint process into a creative medium for contemporary expression.”

    After studying sculpture at the School of Fine Arts, Tokyo, Hamaguchi traveled to France in order to focus on painting and printmaking. At the outbreak of World War II, Hamaguchi moved back to Japan, where he studied traditional Japanese painting. His career took off when he returned to France in 1953 and began to win awards for his monochrome mezzotints and started to create color mezzotints. Over the next several decades, Hamaguchi received numerous prizes at international exhibitions in Europe, Japan, Brazil, and the United States as well as recognition through museum and gallery exhibitions. In 1998, Hamaguchi was honored by the establishment in Tokyo of a museum in his name, Musée Hamaguchi Yozo.

    “Hamaguchi is famous for his exquisite blending of colors familiar from the French mezzotint tradition-yellow, blue, and red-into a wide range of subtle shades,” said Virgin.

    Hamanishi studied sculpture, painting, and printmaking at Tokai University, graduating in 1973. The artist has said that the content and titles of his print series have evolved in natural stages along with the changes and major turning points in his life. His early near photo-realist mezzotints reveal a fascination with natural and constructed objects and with exploring three-dimensional effects. Influenced by the abstract paintings of Barnett Newman, Hamanishi's later prints contrast expanses of bright colors divided by vertical, horizontal, curved, and diagonal lines. Recently, Hamanishi has created works inspired by classic Japanese screens.

    “Hamanishi is internationally respected and acclaimed for his daring innovations and unsurpassed technical precision as a mezzotint artist and teacher,” said Virgin.

    Hamanishi has entered mezzotints in national and international print exhibitions and been awarded numerous awards and honors. He has exhibited his work in museums and galleries in the United States and Japan and throughout Europe, Asia, and South America.

    The works in this exhibition are on loan from the collection of Ken and Kiyo Hitch, avid collectors of 20th and 21st century Japanese prints.

    This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts, which believes that a great nation deserves great art. Additional support provided by the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

    About the Worcester Art Museum
    The Worcester Art Museum, which opened to the public in 1898, is world-renowned for its 35,000-piece collection of paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, photography, prints, drawings and new media. The works span 5,000 years of art and culture, ranging from ancient Roman mosaics to Colonial silver, Impressionist paintings and contemporary art. Dedicated to the promotion of art and art education, the Museum offers a year-round studio art and art appreciation program that enrolls over 6,000 adult and youth students each year. Public tours are offered Saturdays at 11 a.m. and Sundays at 1 p.m., September through May. Audio tours are also available in English and Spanish.

    Museum hours are Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Thursday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. (evening hours sponsored by Commerce Bank), and Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors and full-time college students with current ID, and FREE for Members and all youth 17 and under. Admission is also FREE for everyone on Saturday mornings, 10 a.m.-noon (sponsored by The TJX Companies, Inc. and Massachusetts Electric, a National Grid Company). The Museum is located at 55 Salisbury St., Worcester, Mass., easily accessible from the Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90), Route 290 and Route 9. Free parking is available near entrances on Salisbury, Lancaster and Tuckerman streets. For more information, call (508) 799-4406.