If you haven’t read part 1 of the Paper Art series, which explains the uniqueness of paper as an art material, please read it here.
Paper and Humanity’s Honeymoon Relationship
Let’s start with a bit of trivia this time.
According to archaeological research, paper was invented in China around 100 B.C., and has since developed as a part of civilization. The word “paper” originates from the papyrus, a thick paper-like writing medium used by the Egyptian civilization, which dates back to 2560-2550 BC.
As of 2020, our attachment to paper is waning due to the rise of digital technology. However, the paper culture will not disappear overnight. For example, even in an age where everything can be done via e-mail, LINE, and Zoom, we still send letters for occasions such as New Year’s cards, weddings, and birthdays, and many people still buy heavy and bulky paper books even though they can hold hundreds of books in one light and thin tablet. What connects us to this seemingly outdated material is the nostalgia for paper, the analogity that has been imprinted in our memories as a human race.
No matter how much the world changes, the 4,000 year old relationship between people and paper still continues all over the world. The antique fairs held several times a year in France, where I am staying, are very popular, and the items that attract people’s interest are sometimes letters written decades ago. The beautifully handwritten postcards and letters are yellowing, but the sentiments written on them are still vivid. The ink blots and handwriting show the writer’s hesitation and excitement without fading.
Washi paper, which is thin but strong, has developed to be compatible with brushes and ink. Its beautiful texture is also used for furniture, such as Japanese lights and shoji screens. In ancient times, washi was used as a wrapping material for Shinto offerings, and as a ceremonial fold, the knowledge of how to fold and crease it became part of the education of high-ranking samurai. In the Edo period (1603-1868), origami spread to the general public as we know it today. As a young man growing up in Japan, I have always been familiar with the fine quality of Japanese paper through my love of calligraphy, making origami, and flying paper airplanes with friends.
How important is the “analog” medium, paper, in art?
Janaki Lele, a visual artist based in India, weaves a story through hand-cut paper cutouts. In a piece called “Telepathy,” accompanied by a poem, she writes, “An energy net passes through invisible lines… Connecting two hearts… You were thinking of me, weren’t you? Actually, I was just thinking about you, too. I whispered. I see that it is not only the modern energy of visible power cables that connects our brains, and it makes me rethink the way we connect with others. The process of expressing our thoughts is like releasing a kite or a bird into the stream of the sky. This flow turns the turbines of the windmills and watermills in our minds, creating energy in the interaction. Apparently, telepathic linking can occur when we are in tune with this analog mechanism.
Another work, Star Catchers, depicts a gentle but vague dream story. It was inspired by the time he spent playing with a friend’s child, picking at the sunset as it passed by the window. All these stories unfold on just one or a few sheets of paper, using silhouettes and a little depth. It is astonishing that a piece of paper only a few micro-millimeters thick has the capacity and potential to receive and transmit all the drama. Why is this possible? The secret lies in the fact that paper is an organic substance. As we have seen in the organic formation of thought and communication, biological energy interacts between humans and paper art. The paper acts as a catalyst, connecting the artist to the art, and the art to us.
Based in Japan, Hyakkimaru is a prolific paper cutout artist with over 10,000 works to his credit, bringing samurai into the 21st century world on paper. The lines he draws have a sharpness that stands out like a Japanese sword. He has designed many covers for Japanese historical novels, and many of his motifs are from the era when samurai and ninja were active. His bold compositions have the dynamism of ukiyoe and the catchiness of manga. These elements, combined with the vivid portrayal of people, give his works a vitality. It goes without saying that the organic paper has a receptive power to hold the life.
The artist’s work is as powerful as his art. In addition to creating two-dimensional and three-dimensional paper cutout art, he has appeared on television, exhibited in Japan, the U.S. and France, and, interestingly, has given live paper cutout performances. He also sells masks with his warrior designs on them, which is very encouraging for the With Corona era. Hyakkimaru may have had a career like a ronin samurai, studying architecture at university and then training in ceramics. But now, as the spearhead of the Japanese paper-cutting world, he is carving out his own career and showing the way for future generations.
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