Taro Takizawa is a visual artist and printmaking instructor, who recently graduated from Syracuse University as a printmaking MFA candidate. We sat down in the Bindery to talk about his five-week residency at the Morgan, how his Japanese roots play into his work, and the relationship between large-quantity printing and large-scale installations.
MB: Tell me a little about your background and how you got started with printmaking.
TT: I was born and raised in Japan, but I always knew I wanted to study abroad because my mom’s from Michigan and studied in Japan. I went to Central Michigan University, and at some point my advisor suggested that I take a printmaking course because it was kind of old-school design.
It was really challenging, there was so much stuff to remember compared to drawing and painting. My initial response was, this class is so hard; I don’t like it at all. I didn’t yet understand the importance of multiples. But the last assignment was stone lithography, and I got some really good work out of it. That got me hooked.
MB: When you say you didn’t appreciate the concept of multiples in your intro course, do you mean that you didn’t want to be an edition printer? Do you think it’s possible to have the capacity to think about multiples when you’re just starting out?
TT: That is a fundamental question: why do you have to make multiples? My students ask my that a lot. And it’s just the nature of the process in printing making unless you’re doing mono monoprinting - those are one-offs.
Producing multiples is just a different mindset, and it took me a while to start appreciating the ability to produce large quantities. But quickly, I started to find the value in mass production.
We’re taught to stay busy, make work, keep making work. That mindset was and is in me. So, it really feels good to look at a pile of work that I produced in a short amount of time.
MB: Would you say that there’s a certain level of mastery in being able to consistently print?
TT: Yes. But at that point, I didn’t really care so much about mastery because my faculty advisors were pretty clear in telling me: you won’t master this technique within the first couple years. It could be a lifelong challenge.” I wasn’t in a rush.
I think I was learning slowly. I started noticing what’s good and what’s bad in terms of craftsmanship as I met more and more printmakers out in the world--at conferences, looking online, at museums. I started noticing the tiny details that people get really nerdy about.
MB: [laughs] That’s the good stuff.
TT: It is. That’s a really exciting part. But I wasn’t too caught up with being perfect. That takes away some of the fun. I like to be more intuitive, more casual. It’s nice to produce a pristine print. But my ideas are more about producing quantities, rather than spending a month on producing one piece.
MB: So, do you come to a residency, like the Morgan’s, with a game plan? Or do you get here, assess, and figure it out?
TT: It really depends on what sort of place I’m in at that moment. This semester I’ve been experimenting with the same processes I’m about to do here. I want to go into production mode.
MB: What’s that particular process?
TT: It’s about creating mirror images by printing normally on one side of the page, folding it over, and running it through the press again to transfer the remaining ink to the blank side. One side is the original print and the other is the transfer side, and you can tell because one side is slightly lighter.
The effect fascinates me because whenever I’m printing, say from a woodblock, I peel back the woodblock when I’m done, and I see a double image. There’s the image I’ve printed on the paper, and there’s the image that remains on the actual woodblock. Only in that moment is it mirrored. Once you’ve completely peeled away the woodblock, it’s is no more. You just have the print result. ButI think that “mirror image” is something every printmaker sees in their mind.
MB: So by printing a mirrored image, you’re creating the image of the process itself.
TT: Yes, exactly. I learned this technique from Koichi Yamamoto, who’s a printmaking professor at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. I see so much potential in these works.
MB: Tell me about the imagery you use.
TT: Well, there are historical and cultural aspects to Japanese culture that I started researching when I came to the US for college. I wanted to find out what was important for me about where I came from. And I became fascinated with Japanese prints, architecture, armours from the 16th and 17th centuries, and fabric pattern of kimonos.
Japan’s borders were closed for 300 years, which allowed our culture to develop uninterrupted. I believe we have this “Japanese aesthetic” that every Japanese person has in their foundation.
MB: It’s just inherent?
TT: Yes, and the blocks I brought with me are my versions of blending the aesthetics that I inherited with my fascination with patterns.
MB: Do you sit down with a sketchbook and plan your patterns, or do you just carve?
TT: I do both. I like working intuitively. Once I make one mark, that sparks the next move, and that creates a domino effect. It becomes interesting when I get to a corner, because I have to figure out how to fit everything in.
MB: Without making it look like an afterthought.
TT: Yeah, and now that I’ve been doing this for quite a while, I know I can do it. There’s more confidence in me than when I started.
MB: This extends to every art form, right? You start by learning a discipline, you get good, and then you can push the bounds of abstraction. A Picasso situation. You can start to put your creativity before your skillset, but only because you’ve developed your skillset. Do you feel like you straddle that?
TT: I do go back and forth, especially with my medium. I train as a printmaker, but I also do large vinyl installations, which allows me to go on a much larger scale, in a shorter amount of time, with not a lot of resources.
In undergrad I thought, why can’t prints be larger? In printmaking, we are, in a way, limited by the size of the press or the size of the matrix (copper, woodblock, stone). And even though you’re using the power of multiples, it can be challenging.
With my vinyl installations, I start with a huge sticker essentially, placed on a wall or a window. I then go back with an exacto knife, cutting patterns, and peeling away excess vinyl.
MB: So these are all improv, all intuition?
TT: Yes. If I put a line down, I’m thinking about the next line, how they’ll interact.
MB: This is like calligraphy, which is my background.
TT: I talk about calligraphy a little bit in my thesis paper. I’m not trained in it, but I like that you basically only have one shot, you can’t go back. Focus is way more intense that way.
MB: It’s do or die. You have to be in the moment, but you also have to be anticipating. That can be tricky.
TT: That keeps me very interested in the whole process.
MB: A nice metaphor for life, without getting too existential, when you make a move and you have to follow that up with another move. It is the way we live our lives.
TT: That’s what we talk about in my critiques. A “metaphor for life” might sound too grand, yet I’m always thinking about human relationships, awareness of my surroundings, even endurance when it comes to the larger work. I’m a cyclist, and that helps me be physically available to do these large-scale projects.
MB: There is also a correlation between your mental fitness when you’re cycling and the ability to focus when you’re working--having endorphins and serotonin left over to transfer into your work. I feel that. It’s really hilly in Syracuse, though…Are you a glutton for pain?
TT: [Laughs] It becomes a really good moment when you can climb up a hill. And the descent is amazing. I think about that a lot in the context of my life and career path.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Madison Bennett is a born-and-raised Clevelander, who conducts interviews with artists-in-residence and interns at the Morgan. She is currently earning her MFA in Book Arts at the University of Iowa’s Center for the Book.