The first piece I remember making with Japanese paper, some15 years ago, was on a bluish paper, likely dyed with indigo, where I drew little dots with black walnut ink in a loosely formed grid.  It was a quiet piece.  Looking back I realize there’s a language in it that still resonates for me today.  My hand dyed indigo scarves printed with black walnut ink seem to be unconsciously modeled from it.

When Nancy Jacobi invited me to work with Tosa washi for the exhibition “A Commitment to Washi” I keenly welcomed the opportunity to explore different papers. The exhibition includes a solid roster of artists; Elizabeth D’Agostino, Doug Guildford, Libby Hague, Noelle Hamlyn, Milton Jewell, Annyen Lam, Liz Menard, Loree Ovens, Liz Parkinson, Lorraine Pritchard, Tammy Ratcliff and Cybele Young.  Nancy’s commitment to sourcing this amazing paper and founding The Japanese Paper Place, first on Queen Street and later on Brock Avenue in Toronto, has been pivotal and formative for many artists.

Of the hundreds of studios spanning a 1000 years of making paper in the Kochi prefecture (formerly Tosa) region of Japan there are 20 remaining studios.

“Historically”, Nancy writes, “it has produced mainly un-dyed undecorated practical papers.  Each paper was created for a single  use – gasenshi for calligraphy, tengu-jo for straining lacquer, udaban for mounting scrolls, gampi for Gestetner machines, uses which have now become obsolete.  Looking at new applications for these same papers, refined over centuries, becomes increasingly important.  Pioneer artists like those in this exhibition are integral to finding new life for this ancient resource.”

Washi paper is made from renewable plant fibre including kozo, gampi and mitsumata.

I love washi paper for its balance of fragility and strength, physically and aesthetically which echo the theme I explore in my work.

For the exhibition, I created a work called “ground and sky” from a combination of Tosa Tengu-jo made by the grandson of Sajio Hamada who is a Human National Treasure  and Kizuki Tosa Kozo made by Hiroshi Tamura.  Tamura-san grew up in a temple and works with the help of his wife. Both papers are extremely fine and perhaps an odd choice for the process I wanted to apply.

Drawn to the patterns of leaf stains on the pavement I made tannin prints from a spring shower of maple keys.

The delicate paper frayed into small crumpled pieces in the process which surprised me but I thought perhaps there was something to be salvaged.  I then carefully pried and smoothed the bits open to dry and played with different compositions.

The piece is stitched together with recycled tea bag strings. The process and resulting work I realized reflects my interest in the cycles of entropy and renewal that we experience nature.

I also enjoyed exploring the transparency and layers of the Taniai papers. Sigrid Blohm, who is always a delight to talk to and who guided me through the JPP’s selection of paper, related that “The Taniai papers are made by a couple, Futoshi and Noriko Yoshioka. They gather local materials for much of their dyestuffs including various barks and clays (mineral pigment.)  The papers are all made with a variety of mineral pigments. (Tsuchi means earth or dirt, benigara (or bengara) is iron oxide, aka means red.) Benigara is sometimes used as a mordant, so I suspect that your Taniai Peach is actually peach-bark-dyed with iron mordant. The Aka Tsuchi will be a red earth pigment. The Yosiokas are first generation papermakers and live near the village of Taniai.”

The beautiful naturally dyed peach colour seemed less like a colour than the appearance of filtered light.  It seemed like the kind of light in particular that moves through blossoms.  This spring season I was taken by the confetti of petals everywhere and spent time drawing under the apple trees at the Spadina Museum.

With this piece I was interested in layering the soft translucency of the Taniai Peach with the heavier bark like Taniai Beni Aka Tsuchi paralleling the qualities of blossoms and branches.   The branches of the ground layer are drawn with black walnut ink and the blossoms are first drawn with pencil, then with wax and hand cut.

What I create with the paper is another layer in its story.  When you look at the work, you create another layer.

.   .   .   .   .

“… you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud there will be no water; without water, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, you cannot make paper. So the cloud is in here. The existence of this page is dependent on the existence of a cloud. Paper and cloud are so close. Let us think of other things, like sunshine. Sunshine is very important because the forest cannot grow without sunshine, and we humans cannot grow without sunshine. So the logger needs sunshine in order to cut the tree, and the tree needs sunshine in order to be a tree. Therefore, you can see sunshine in this sheet of paper.  And if you look more deeply, with the eyes of a bodhisattva, with the eyes of those who are awake, you see not only the cloud and the sunshine in it, but that everything is here; the wheat that became the bread for the logger to eat, the logger’s father – everything is in this sheet of paper.”

   -Thich Nhat Hanh

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The exhibition continues in Toronto until July 30 and will head to Tokyo in November.
Panel Discussion:  Thursday, June 20, 6:30 – 8 pm
77 Brock Avenue, Toronto, Monday – Friday 9 – 6