In 1956 the College Women’s Association of Japan held in Tokyo its first print show. Since then in an unbroken sequence the show has been an annual event, prestigious for the artists participating, felicitous for admirers and collectors of contemporary Japanese print art. For this year’s show, CWAJ received 650 submissions. Of these, 222 prints were selected to go on exhibition and sale. The work chosen for the cover of the 46th annual catalog is a silk-screen print entitled “Genpei: Minamoto no Tametomo.” Artist Hideo Takeda said it was one of the last prints in a series that he began in 1985. “It is less an historical image of Minamoto no Tametomo, and more a visualization of my image of this ancient warrior,” he commented.

Hideo Takeda

Now in his early 50s, Takeda was born in Osaka to a family engaged in business. He is the only artist in a family of three siblings. “I always enjoyed drawing,” he said, “but I wasn’t interested in any “serious” subjects.” His artistic skills were at a level to carry him through the entrance examination for Tama Art University in Tokyo. He majored in sculpture, but a chance visit to a bookshop set him on a different course. He had been captivated by the illustrations he saw in a Playboy magazine.

“The American cartoons attracted and inspired me,” he said. “I decided to become a cartoonist.” With the bluntness and earthiness of a typical Osakan, he produced for his graduation submission a work entitled “Madam Chen’s Chinese Restaurant.” A magazine took up this piece for publication, and Takeda was encouraged by the good reception his illustration won. He became a professional magazine illustrator.

Takeda began giving one-man shows when he was 26. Two years later he was awarded the Bungei Shunju Cartoon Artists Prize. “I call myself a cartoonist, not an artist,” Takeda said. “I’m a specialist of the single-scene cartoon. I think viewers not only in Japan but also around the world can appreciate the sophisticated sense of humor that can be shown in cartoons. From the beginning I have wanted my work to be enjoyed by a wide audience.” His ambition approached realization when his work was purchased for the collection of the British Museum, London. He sold subsequently to the British Library, London, and to the Itami City museum of Art in Hyogo Prefecture.

Takeda has stayed with cartoon art, as he claims the cartoon calls for high skill. “An artist establishes a personal and distinctive style, and usually adheres to it,” he said. “He is limited by it for most of his career. On the other hand, a cartoonist has to be flexible, capable and willing to alter his style and interpretation in order to convey his message better. No style is my style.” He prints his pictures in order to reach the wide audience he seeks. “I chose silk-screen, as I found it the easiest and most efficient medium. I don’t do the printing myself. I always look for the best print specialist I can find,” he said.

His illustrations of the Japanese epic “Genpei” — the story of the long-ago, warring families Genji and Heike — are acclaimed for their meticulous detailing and bold imagination. Throughout his career Takeda has developed particular themes to which he still returns, “polishing and perfecting them,” he said. Tattoos recur in his work, animal skeletons, nonsensical situations, and sex. He is clever with his camera, concentrating recently for his subjects on urban landscapes.

This year will mark Takeda’s fifth accepted contribution to the CWAJ Print Show. All prints on display and for sale are original, ranging from traditional styles to Takeda’s kind of unusual expression. The show encourages new and innovative exhibitors as well as staying loyal to established artists. It will be held from Oct. 19 to 21 at the Tokyo American Club. An associate show, featuring new artists and their work, will be held in the Genkan Gallery of the club from Oct. 15 to 28. A “Hands on Art” display of low-relief raised images enables those who rely on touch to benefit. The CWAJ Print Show is one of several continuing efforts to raise money for the association’s education fund.