Sulphur and silver leaf, exposure and cover, hourglass and sketchbook – these are the essentials used by Berlin based artist Norio Takasugi to create stunning works of art. He merges screen printing and photography based on a rare Japanese technique that involves silver leaf and sulphur dating back to the 18th century.
While photography is traditionally associated with the “decisive moment” — Henri Cartier-Bresson’s term for the split second he had to snap the perfect shot — Takasugi’s process is anything but quick and it goes technically as well as conceptually way beyond photography.
His experimental preparations, trial series and preliminal variations of a chosen theme can take weeks, even months and only start with a photograph. Within the following process silver leaf application, screen printing as well as digital retouching are involved.
The resulting artworks possess an eeriness and aura that can make viewers do a double take when they see representations of famous landmarks or familiar items and sceneries. The flowers and plants portrayed have an otherworldliness about them, while an impressive, giant old tree called „fat Bertha“ seems to float in mid-air, between earth and sky.
“With silver leaf and sulphur,
it is possible to achieve various and
irregular shades of black. This
shade of black fascinates me, and I find it
more lively than painted black or the
black of gelatin prints.”
– Norio Takasugi –
The subject matter appears like an apparition. Time is slowed down and the final images give an idea of the passage of time. Norio Takasugi has mainly focused on depictions of nature: landscapes, portraits of trees, flowers and plants. He’s very determined in producing unique artworks only and strictly eschews editions.
In one sequence he tracks the transformation of a tree portrait through variations of lighting, exposure and background hues. He diligently investigates the natural world around him, documents his findings and transforms them into graceful, glowing stories of elegance and beauty.
The silver leaf shine of the prints is particularly affecting and completely envelops the viewer. Although the image is flat on the wall, you feel like you’re in it, you feel its three dimensionality and there’s undoubtedly something dramatic and lyrical about it.
Takasugi, born in Japan in 1973, found accidental encouragement for his artistic and creative leanings at home and within his broader family background. Both his grandfather and his uncle were interested in and working professionally with photography running their own photo studios. From that uncle he inherited a Mamiya medium-format camera and a Nikon 35 mm camera, both of which he still uses today.
As an active photographer however Takasugi started rather late due to previous studies in industrial design and sculpture at Musashino Art University in Tokyo from which he graduated in 1999 as a sculptor. Step by step he experimented with various printing and developing techniques but realized he wanted to go beyond conventional photography and develop his very own unique and individual works of art.
Despite the long and elaborate process, imagining the way the final piece would look is never a problem for the artist. It just takes the necessary patience, time and endurance to go through the many steps of preparing, experimenting and trial printing – in the end it seems to be an intuitive response of the artist towards the future image that he just knows from the beginning whether it works or not.
The outcome is a hybrid artwork that merges screenprint with photography bringing about incredibly beautiful images of subjects that fall into their own reflection – emanating calmness and subtle glow, translating a concept and idea that is all about reflected light.
Takasugi developed a method of printmaking using a technique that was first implemented in the 18th century by Japanese painters. The best-known work using this technique is Red and White Plum Blossoms by Korin Ogata (1658-1716). This technical process was only fully deciphered in 2011 during a joint research project at Tokyo University of Science and the MOA Museum of Art.
Norio Takasuki says about this, “Through my work with classic photography and its technology, I became interested in silver as a material. With silver leaf and sulphur, it is possible to achieve various and irregular shades of black. This shade of black fascinates me, and I find it more lively than painted black or the black of gelatin prints.”
With his technique, black and white or silver become two completely separate areas. The motif shines silvery and reflective through a deep black surface in mysterious illumination.
A further theme that has been a constant in Norio Takasugi’s work from the beginning is the antagonism of mass product versus unique piece. How is it possible to create unique pieces in a time of mass production? And how is this possible to create real unique pieces in photography, a medium that was designed from the start to create reproducible images?
With his technique Takasugi is able to create exactly what he strives for: every print is unique.
Images: Norio Takasugi, GB-2, 2018, screen print on silver leaf coated paper, 25,6 x 17,7 cm (Detail) // Norio Takasugi, 3-1/BR, 2018, screen print on silver leaf coated paper, 35 x 26,7 cm // Norio Takasugi, GB-2, 2018, screen print on silver leaf coated paper, 25,6 x 17,7 cm // All images are courtesy of the artist.