Independent Gallery

Yozo Hamaguchi

Yozo Hamaguchi b.Hirokawa 1909 – 2000 Tokyo

Born into the tenth generation of a famous soy sauce dynasty, at the age of eighteen Hamaguchi entered the School of Fine Arts in Tokyo where he was taught painting and sculpture. In 1930 it was suggested that it would be beneficial to his studies if he went to Paris, then the vibrant heart of the art world. While continuing with painting he began his foray into printmaking. Atelier 17, the print workshop under the direction of Englishman Stanley William Hayter, was taking a new look at old intaglio techniques such etching, engraving, drypoint, aquatint and mezzotint. It was this spirit of rediscovery that inspired Hamaguchi to pursue his life long exploration of the latter.

Mezzotint had been invented in the 17th century by the German soldier and artist Ludwig von Siegen. It made the subtle nuances of Old Master paintings easier to replicate. Deep, rich blacks and textural hints had not been possible to convey with the earlier methods. The secret of this process is that the copper printing plate is first roughened with a fine-toothed tool known as a mezzotint rocker. Burnishing the resulting raised surface creates the image, the harder the artist polishes the plate, the lighter the area appears on the finished print.

Only one printed work by Hamaguchi is known to exist from the 1930s.  After the Second World War he began work on copper plates in earnest exhibiting in Tokyo. In 1953 he settled in Paris and in 1955 began producing colour mezzotints breathing new life into this ancient process. In 1981 he moved to San Francisco remaining there until 1996 when he returned to Japan, Three years later the Museé Yozo Hamaguchi was inaugurated in Tokyo.

Hamaguchi’s mezzotints, said to be among the finest of the 20th century, exude a strange luminosity where light seems to emanate from beyond the paper. The subject matter, although often intimate in scale, is intellectually absorbing.