Interview by Bertrand Delacroix Gallery


This week, Mitsu Haraguchi, one of the five NY-based watercolor artists exhibiting in next month’s Works on Paper show, shared some stunning images and great perspectives on his work. Born in Japan’s Ome, a suburb of Tokyo, Haraguchi has been interested in the arts since he was a child. However, the artist has a varied background with years spent in biochemistry, animation, the film and television industries and in a patent agency before dedicating himself to painting. About ten years ago, Haraguchi began studying watercolor under Paul Ching-Bor and has since created a very distinct style and approach to the medium.

Haraguchi’s background in science and microbiology is evident in his previous series’ fascination with nature. This new collection depicts architecture from Poughkeepsie, New York in brilliant colors. This will be Haraguchi’s premier exhibition at Bertrand Delacroix Gallery; he will attend the opening reception on October 1.

Bertrand Delacroix Gallery: When did you first start working in watercolor? 

Mitsu Haraguchi: I always liked drawing and painting.  In elementary school and middle school, watercolor was the only painting medium available to us.  I started with oil when I was in high school.  However, I was away from painting for a while until I took a watercolor class at the Art Students League of New York in 2002.  Since I was not happy with the way the instructor teaches, a few months later, I took another class taught by a much younger teacher, Paul Ching-Bor, who became my mentor as well as a good friend for more than a decade.  Without his inclusive attitude, articulate advices and encouragements, I would have stopped painting a long time ago.

BDG: What about watercolor makes it your medium of choice? 

MH: I like the elusiveness of water.  It is so elusive that it is hard to control.  However, because of its uncontrollable aspect, it gives you a great surprise.  I also like using paper, white paper, in particular.In oil, you would need to use white paint or its mixture to express bright light.  In watercolor, you can have the same or better effect by leaving paper. Nothing is brighter and purer than whiteness of paper in watercolor.

BDG: How would you describe your style of work?

MH: My style may not be a typical watercolor painting.  Technically, my paintings belong to representational, or semi-representational, or somewhere between.  In terms of subject, I used to paint nature, including flowers (e.g., magnolia), woods and ocean.  Currently, I paint landscape, or more specifically house-scape, in a suburbantown.

BDG: Describe your artistic process from beginning to end, both psychologically and physically. Do you know what you will paint ahead of time? Do you use sketches?

MH: First,I choose a photo or subjectto which I feel emotionally attached.  I used to carry a small sketchbook and still do some sketches, but I rarely paint from my sketches.  I use photos that I took myself, because I rarelyfeel emotionally attached to other people’s photos.No matter how beautiful they are, photos taken by other people feel like a language spoken by other people.When I paint, I like to speak with my own language.  Then, I try my best to correctly express my feeling on paper.  That is a hard part, because there is no formula or established way to do this.   Every time I put my brush on a brand-new sheet of paper, I have a different feeling,a different challenge to overcome.  I like this process.In the photos, you can see the full progress of one of my paintings.

BDG: You are preparing for a group show at BDG. How would you describe the works that will be a part of this show? 

MH: In summer of 2014, I visited a small town called Poughkeepsie, NY and immediately fell in love with the place.  The town has a rich history dating back to the era of American Revolution.  I am particularly attracted to historic sites and old buildings (e.g., 19th century Victorian style, colonial style...etc.).   It also used to be a capital of New York state a long time ago.  At present, however, you see the remains of those glorious days.  After a major corporation left, things went south.  Some say that nursing homes arecurrently one of the biggest industries there.   You may wonder, how did I become attracted to the place?  I don’t know.  As Edward Weston once stated, "where words end, art begins."  I just like the place.  I impressed by the “being” of the town.

In the upcoming show at BDG, Works on Paper, I will present a series of house-scapes in Poughkeepsie.Although I have been living in New York City for about two decades, I was born and raised in Japan.  I am an outsider.  However, sometimes an outsider can see things, which locals take for, granted from a different perspective.  In my paintings, I may take advantage of this outsider’s point of view in order to express my feelings toward the town.  It is my small hope that people who see my works get a certain type of feeling or emotion.     

 BDG: What is the most challenging part of your artistic process? The best part?

MH: Aside from some technical aspects such as drawing correctly in perspective, the most challenging part is to recreate on paper the feeling that I originally got.  The best part is when I can accomplish it almost unexpectedly.  

BDG: Who or what are you artistically inspired by (painters, directors, writers, etc.)? What past or contemporary artist do you admire?

MH: I cannot name all of the painters I like.  They are so many! Beside painters, I am artistically inspired by Edward Weston (photographer), Haruki Murakami (novelist) and Stanley Kubrick (film director).

BDG: What themes would you say your work deals with? 

MH: Nostalgia.

BDG: You have a very diverse background with time spent in biochemistry, film, production, animation and patents – how did you end up working in watercolor? 

MH: It’s a long story (laughs).  When I was young, I liked drawing, but also liked storytelling.   At age five or six, I created my first storyboard and presented it to my first audience: my parents.  My passion for visual arts was, however, subdued during the time of higher education where I studied biochemistry.  I was, and still am, interested in life science though.  After advancing to a Ph.D. program in microbiology, my subdued passion gradually emerged.  While still going to graduate school, I created a 13-minute drawing animation.  It was a pre-computer animation era and I hand-drew three thousand sheets of paper within three months; by the way, this animation film won an award at a Hiroshima Video and Film Festival and later it was screened at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

I dropped out the Ph.D. course, and left Japan for New York to enter the graduate division of NYU Film School.  At NYU Tisch School of the Arts, I completed a Master of Fine Arts and made another award-winning short film.  After graduation, I worked for a TV production company where I wrote and directed science news programs.  Then I switched my career to a registered patent agent taking advantage of my degrees in science.  That is when I seriously started working in watercolor.