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After filming the woodblock printing process video for the Edo Pop exhibition, Marketing Assistant Libby Whyte sat down with contemporary artist Hiroko Imada in her studio to reflect on her artistic journey, her inspirations and the enduring influence of Japanese woodblock printing.

LW: Can you tell me a little bit about your practice and how long you've been making work for?

HI: I've been doing my practice nearly 40 years. I'm interested in many different media – not just in printmaking, but also painting and site-specific installation works as well.

LW: Do you remember your first experiences with making art?

HI: I started art lessons as a child, and that was probably when I was a kindergarten student. When you're doing it as a child, it's just for fun – nothing serious. I only started to become serious about art when I was aged around 15. At that time, I started to become interested in becoming an artist and wanted to at least go to art University, so I went to a preparation school for that.

LW: Was there anything specific that inspired you to become an artist?

HI: My mother liked any form of art. She took me to art exhibitions when I was little, she also took me to classical concerts and theatres, so that was all in my childhood memory. I really liked any form of art, but I picked up fine art because as I got older, I realised “oh, this isn't for me”, so I narrowed my choices down and selected one that suited me best.

Woodblock print artwork of swirling blues and whites by artists Hiroko Imada

LW:What inspires you when you're creating work? Are there any running themes you enjoy exploring, or do the inspirations change with each project?

HI: I think my inspiration is always to do with nature, or the movement of dance. I think it’s down to my childhood experience; I was brought up in the countryside of Tokyo. I played outside a lot and was always in touch with nature and had lots of inspiration from that. There was a river near me as well, so I’ve always been interested in water too.

I started practising classical ballet as well. I started lessons in my 20s, and I'm still doing it. Learning how to move your body influenced me a lot and it was also very helpful when you’re doing a large-scale work – knowing how to move your body really links to how to use your brush strokes effectively as well. After starting ballet lessons, my brush strokes improved a lot and dance movements have become my subject from time to time. Through dance, I am aiming to transfer my body movement onto paper and the canvas.

LW: Are there any artists that influence the work that you make?

HI: Hokusai is a great inspiration of mine, and some other Japanese artists such as Tohaku Hasegawa and Korin Ogata. I’ve also been inspired by American artists like Robert Motherwell and Sam Francis.

LW: Are there any certain aspects of their work that inspire you?

HI: I think it’s a lot to do with the movement, especially American contemporary artists. I was really inspired by the movement and action to the canvas.

LW: You can see that really translates in your work as well. You can really feel the movement in all your pieces.

LW: The art of Japanese woodblock printing has a very long history. Do you feel that woodblock printing been ingrained into Japanese culture?

HI: I think so. We learn woodblock printing when we are primary school students. I had my first block printing experience when I was about 6 or 7. You do it repetitively after that, so even if you're not trying to become a specialist, you know how to do it on a basic level.

LW: Is the history that’s tied to woodblock printing of any significance within your work?

HI: When I entered university, I started to learn the techniques of woodblock printing as well as its history. I really admire and respect the technique but doing it to the standard of the old days requires many years of training. As a contemporary printmaker, I am inspired by the traditional technique, but I do it in my own way to suit my way of expression more.

LW: Is there anything you would like people to take away from your work?

HI: I always feel like it's up to the audience how to take my work. The only thing I really do mind is I don't want them to feel anything negative. I want to create something that makes everybody happy.

LW: Could you give us an insight into what you've been working on for the Edo Pop exhibition?

HI: I noticed some expressions of cherry blossoms which I wanted to be inspired in my work too, so I'm going to be printing some cherry blossoms on a large scale onto paper, which is going to be an installation piece. I've been working with water images for some years now, so I also wanted to pick up some water images.

Watch the process of woodblock printing