Washi Transformed

Washi Transformed

New Expressions in Japanese Paper

Washi Transformed

Unique for its strong natural fibers and its painstaking production techniques, washi stands out as a nexus of tradition and innovation. Its continuing, and ever-evolving, importance as an artistic medium is due primarily to the ingenuity of Japanese contemporary artists, who have pushed washi beyond its historic uses to create highly textured two-dimensional works, expressive sculptures, and dramatic installations. Washi, which translates to “Japanese paper,” has been integral to Japanese culture for over a thousand years, and the strength, translucency, and malleability of this one-of-a-kind paper have made it extraordinarily versatile as well as ubiquitous. Historically, washi has been used as a base for Japanese calligraphy, painting, and printmaking; but when oiled, lacquered, or otherwise altered, it has other fascinating applications in architecture, religious ritual, fashion, and art.

Despite the increased mechanization of papermaking in Japan over the last century, contemporary Japanese artists have turned to this supple yet sturdy paper to express their artistic visions. The thirty-seven artworks and installations in Washi Transformed: New Expressions in Japanese Paper epitomize the potential of this traditional medium in the hands of these innovative artists, who have made washi their own. Using a range of techniques—layering, weaving, and dyeing to shredding, folding, and cutting—nine artists embrace the seemingly infinite possibilities of washi. Bringing their own idiosyncratic techniques to the material, their extraordinary creations—abstract paper sculptures, lyrical folding screens, highly textured wall pieces, and other dramatic installations— demonstrate the resilience and versatility of washi as a medium, as well as the unique stature this ancient art form has earned in the realm of international contemporary art. The breathtaking creativity of these artistic visionaries deepens our understanding of how the past informs the present, and how it can build lasting cultural bridges out of something as seemingly simple and ephemeral as paper.

Featured Art: Kakuko Ishii,  Musubu R, 2012, Washi paper (Mizuhiki) and pigment, Image courtesy of the artist, © Kakuko Ishii.

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Washi Transformed: New Expressions in Japanese Paper was organized by Meher McArthur and is toured by International Arts & Artists, Washington, DC.


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