TRACE invite

I hit the ground running on my return to Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

Meetings….Studio Work… Submitting my Winston Churchill Fellowship Report… Working with Pin-Up… Receiving awesome sponsorship from How We Create…THANK YOU SO MUCH AGAIN!!!

Playing with Rubber… asking myself Who am I? Who do I think I am after all of the experiences with amazing people from all over the globe… And of course, Lots and Lots of MAKING…

Well the last few weeks I have not blogged much. That’s because I have been in full prep mode for my SOLO exhibition TRACE at Pin-Up Project Space in Melbourne Australia…

TRACE maps and connects the underlying conceptual ideas that thread through the practice of Brisbane based architect and artist Christina Waterson. By physically surveying the origins of her work, the new collection embodies a 3-dimensional ‘trace’, sketch or echo of past trajectories. A softening of material and a simplification of line results in Waterson’s return to essential forms and qualities. Like a stone smoothed by the tidal waters of the ocean, sharp lines soften to tactile curves and arabesques. A palette of materials that range from rubber, leather and felt resonate with a return to artisan values within the traditions of leather work, sewing, beading and macramé.

A collection of work within the exhibition is informed by Waterson’s recent Winston Churchill Fellowship Research experiences.

I am so excited about the new work I may explode at any moment! Stay Tuned!!!

Kyoto Arcade

You would not believe it. I was riding my bike through one of the arcades and I ran into Toshie Kusamoto, a photographer I had met the week before in Beppu! So lucky!

We both were very surprised and very excited, so we made a plan to have tea and hang out before my train left for Osaka that night. In fact Toshie only lived a block away from my hotel!

Toshie at Home

We enjoyed tea and special sweets. Toshie was kind enough to show me her work. She had recently documented the hot springs of Beppu; communicating the essence of the place: mysterious scaleless landscapes that materialise through the steam.

And then suddenly it was time to go! Taxi…Shinkansen…Osaka…plane! I was sad to leave Japan especially all of the gifted people I had shared time with.

Time to fly…

…next stop China!

Kyoto Skyline from JR Station

What happens when you’re in a city like Kyoto where there is so much to see and the topography is fairly even… you get on a bike!

On My Bike

Bundaberg, where I grew up, is very flat. It has one hill, The Hummock, an extinct volcano. Its so flat that as children we would lie on our backs in the field, and looking back towards the horizon, see the curve in the earth. Kyoto central (whilst surrounded by mountains) is fairly flat, so perfect for biking it.

Having visited Kyoto before, I was aware that moving experiences surface when you least expect them; when you are between origin and destination. Biking offered the best way to be open to these in-between discoveries.

The in-between
Shinhiyoshi Jingu Shrine
Markets at Shinhiyoshi Jingu Shrine

I was headed to Sanjūsangen-dō, a Buddhist Temple known locally as Rengeō-in or Hall of the Lotus King. The interior of the Temple is divided into thirty-three bays by sets of columns. The hall houses 1000 statues of the Bodhisattva Kannon. Each may manifest into thirty-three forms to take flight and ward off evil.

View of perimeter of Sanjūsangen-dō adjacent to Yogen-in gateway
Sanjūsangen-dō special entry with courtyard and Hall beyond
Sanjūsangen-dō Hall exterior
Sanjusangendo-Hall of 33 Bay (1995) by Sugimoto

Photography inside the temple was prohibited. Japanese Photographic Artist, Sugimoto Hiroshi, was permitted to photograph the interior for his work Sanjusangendo – Hall of 33 Bays. I still remember the first time I saw this work, first hand, while working at The Queensland Art Gallery. It echoed the experience of the place: a calmness; an eternal drawing out of time and space that you can almost hear rising out of the dark.

I left Sanjūsangen-dō, visited Yogen-in again, then rode until dusk heading in the direction of home.

A Great Day in Kyoto!

See Sanjūsangen-dō official website for Interior views.

It is very important to experience Karakami within space and time through the sequence of arriving and discovering the work, and experiencing the change of light in its surface. Toto and Aiko directed me to places that feature ancient Karacho Karakami with later editions of the Karacho patterns, as well more recent commissions of their artwork. One important example sits within Yogen-in (very near Sanjusangen-do officially called Rengeo-in, Kyoto).

Yogen-in gate
Path leading from gate to Temple
Entry to Main Temple
The mon or Family Crest of the Tokugawa shoguns – Maruni Mitsu Aoi (Mitsuba api) or three holly hock leaves inside a circle

Unfortunately photography is forbidden inside the temple. It was beautiful to see the very very old Karakami Fusami featuring the Dragon (protector of Buddhism). Karacho had recently installed new panels of the same pattern to sit next to the historical screens. One has to imagine being in the space by candlelight and seeing the glimmer of the golden dragon as it clutches the pearl.

Visit design boom to see photos of another example of Karacho’s karakami within Katsura Imperial Villa (Katsura Rikyu). Beautiful!

After a long restful sleep (and completely inspired by meeting Toto and Aiko from Karacho) I headed out to enjoy all of the beautiful moments of nature in my immediate area. For me it’s not just nature’s beautiful presence in fauna, and flora and season that inspire me. It is also the force of nature made evident through the changes in the things around us with the passing of time.

Street Chive
Space of Rust
Vine on Pine
Sun on Pine leaf
Potted Plants
Street Grass

What struck me most about Japan, and what is not evident in these photos (of nature in Kyoto City) is the difference in Japan’s nature when placed next to Australia’s. There is an essence; a flowing quality to it; a movement. I believe this is ever-present in Karacho’s Karakami.

Cocon Karasuma Building, in Kyoto
Shijo-Karasuma Store

After my very personal experience with Toto and Aiko at Karacho’s Saruyama Salon  we visited their Shijo-Karasuma store, at the Cocon Karasuma Building, in Kyoto (designed by architects Kengo Kuma and Associates). On arrival I was struck by the building’s facade. Karacho was commissioned by Kengo Kuma to re-interpret Tempyo Ohgumo (big cloud) as large printed glass panels applied to the facade. In fact this motif features throughout the building at different scales and in a range of materials. Each iteration has been carefully considered and responds directly to the surrounding space.

Within the Shijo-Karasuma store there is Karakami in traditional and non-traditional forms; cut to match the size of cards and letter paper; special mounted artworks in different formats (circle, square) as well as Lamps, Screens and Fusami.

Karacho is the last maker of Karakami in Japan. Working in this new way Karacho makes their art accessible to a wider audience and ensures the continuance of this gift for future generations to enjoy!

Shijo-Karasuma Store
Friendly Karacho Staff with Tempyo Ohgumo (big cloud ) and Kado Tsunagi (connecting angles) Fusami behind
Large mounted artworks (top) and Washi Lights using Karakami
Mounted Karakami including Tempyo Ohgumo (big cloud), Hyotan (Gourd), Shunran (spring orchid), and Kado Tsunagi (connecting angles)
Karacho’s Tempyo Ohgumo (big cloud) 

Karacho’s Saruyama Salon with Hyotan (gourd pattern) on the entry Fusami

On arriving at Karacho’s Saruyama Salon I was greeted by my special interpreter for the day (Karacho staff member) Mayo Ishii. Ishii modestly introduced Toto and Aiko, the twelfth generation of Karacho Karakami artists.

Toto first presented the Karacho Fusami screen samples. The patterns were very spatial and present in time; especially the white on white Kado Tsunagi (connecting angles). It was like a spider’s web at night catching the smallest amount of light with its silvery thread; a shimmering transient moment.

The hangi (wood blocks) are a particular size to match the largest size of washi produced in the early times. On the Fusami screens the patterns are set out to form a continuous pattern. Many of the patterns that looked contemporary were in fact the very oldest.

There is a special ritual that Toto performs to prepare for Karakami. This is personal and spiritual. Toto selected a wood block with the pattern of a wispy cloud (or for me like the moment when the sun glows on the lining of a cloud). It was very soothing to watch Toto work. In Karakami the colour is applied with a furui. This application is gentler on the woodblock than a brush and ensures the hangi’s longevity.

Preparation: combining the pigments to the desired colour mixed with mica; then applied to furui (fine circular sieve) with the natural brush; a selection of prepared hangi

Toto gently transfers the colour to the prepared hangi

Gentle touch as washi meets hangi through pattern

Checking, then adding colour

Gently the washi is lifted from the hangi and karakami placed face up

Toto informed me that it was now my turn! I was a little reserved as it was such an honour to experience the making of Karakami. Toto guided me through the process and told me that watching someone make Karakami gave an insight into a person’s nature…

The hangi Toto selected for me was asanoha (hemp leaves). This was a block that had been carved anew as the original was very often used.

…Come close and let me whisper something. There is a moment when the furui meets the hangi for the first time, that is like breathing.  Delicate and fleeting and very personal.

The feeling took my breath away.

Pattern of carapace seen on a tortoise sculpture at the Entry to The Forbidden City, Beijing

kikkō is used extensively throughout Japanese and Chinese crafts. It draws its origin from the carapace of a tortoise. The carapace is the upper part of the shell and has a distinctive hexagonal pattern. The tortoise symbolises longevity because they are known to live a long life.

Kikkō: The hexagon can appear singularly or concentrically repeated (R)

This pattern is also practically used for Kikkō armour. The armour is made up of small hexagonal plates of steel or hardened leather connected to each other by chain armor or kusari and sewn to a cloth backing. Because it is flexible and folding it is sometimes known as Kikkō tatami dou.

There are many beautiful variations of the Kikkō pattern. These include:

– kasane kikkō ni wa (kasane = repeated: kikkō = tortoise carapace: ni = and: wa = ring)

– kumi kikkō (braided/plaited hexagons)

– hanairi kikkō (a flower placed inside a hexagon)

My Favourite: Bishamon kikkō (Bishamon the name of Buddhist god) Bishamon is a protector of Bhuddist law bringing good fortune to the poor and is the patron of doctors priests, and soldiers

In special company; Toto (far left), I, Aiko, and Interpreter: Karacho staff member Mayo Ishii (far right) in front of a contemporary and very personal work by Toto. The work is at home within Goo Shrine, Kyoto.

It has taken me some time to reflect on and prepare this post (and the series of posts) about meeting Karacho and spending time with Toto and Aiko. This is because I had an experience that is hard to put into words. Here is Part 1 of my attempt…

Karacho is Japan’s last maker of Karakami. Karakami is wood-block printed paper. The Senda family have been printing karakami since establishing their workshop in Kyoto in 1624. The tradition, along with 650 hand-carved wooden blocks, have been passed down in an unbroken line within the family for twelve generations. Karakami traditionally graced  Fusami screens (traditional sliding doors to open and divide space)  but now is made more available through textiles, furniture and tableware at Shijo Karasuma, Cocon Karasuma building in Kyoto.

The karakami Karacho make today continues to preserve and echo the traditional process that is 400 years old. It is within the materials, care/intention, mood and a delicate quiet beauty that the union of motif and washi lives.

The materials all originate from nature.

The washi (wa Japanese shi paper) is made from living trees and bushes.  Kyoto washi is known to be of the best quality; it is smooth with natural fibres subtly scattered throughout.

The circular frame Furui after pigment and pattern transferred, mortar and pestle with colour mixed, the natural brush below and Mica to the right side.

The colour is mixed from natural pigments. Only three pure colours are combined; red, blue and yellow. There is no recipe. These are mixed at the moment of printing. They are mixed with Mica; a shimmering mineral that is ground into a powder for this purpose. The final colour is inspired by a personal moment from the day; like the colour of flowering blossoms seen that morning or the colour of the sky from that afternoon. No two prints will be the same.

The woodblocks or Hangi are mostly carved from Magnolia or Honoki wood (Magnolia Hypoleucaea or Magnolia Obovata). Honoki is a non-resinous wood that has a subtle grain and is not subject to warping and cracking.

The Crane with The Nine Stars original wood block underneath

The patterns or motifs carved into the Hangi come from many different sources. They are all however carefully considered, and continue to live through Karacho. One of Karacho’s patterns originates from the Alhambra, in Spain ( a place I had hoped to visit on my travels but was too pressed for time). The pattern records the concealment of the mark of Christianity; the cross. The cross was simplified to a circle and square to escape persecution from other religions at the time. The pattern made its way to Japan, on the Maritime Silk Road through traders, as an exported silk yoke previously worn by Christian priests. While that is the origin, in Japan, the circle in this arrangement is an important pattern as it embodies ever-growing, ever-expanding happiness.

A contemporary installation of ancient Karacho karakami patterns at Karacho’s Shijo Karasuma

Many of the patterns are inspired by and celebrate the beauty of Japanese nature and season. The breath and character of the Dragon in the form of the cloud, the fertile Hyotan (Gord), the hope for longevity of Kikko (the tortoise carapace pattern), the growth and importance of Asanoha (hemp in Japanese every day life through weaving), and Edasakura the cherry blossom in full bloom on branches…

Some of these patterns re-occur in other cultures including China, Turkey and Northern Europe (the Celtic people). In this way they are universal patterns that have transcended time and culture. Each culture has subtle differences in the meaning assigned to the patterns, their application and use,; but all are linked to the exchange of knowledge through trade along the Silk Road.

Just as the materials used in Karakami all originate from nature, they are all linked through the life given by water. And like water Toto and Aiko breathe life and bring together these elements with the contact and touch of their hands. They see their role as breathing life into these elements; the washi, the hangi, the motif, the nature, the colour; through the moment of Karakami.

Toto’s delicate touch

Karacho Karakami

The Shrine: Opposite my Hotel

The sun finally came out so I explored my street; Teramachi Street in Central Kyoto.

Wares on the Street
Wares on the Street
Japanese Antique Store
Iron Lanterns; Moon Cake Moulds, Store Canopy; Ripe tomatoes in Bamboo Baskets; Bike Envy; Street Store; Shrine Tile Roof; Bamboo Tea Whisks; Traditional Braiding.
Design Store
View to Kyoto Imperial Palace Gardens
My Street: The same intersection but from above, with gardens on left
Tennis in the Imperial Gardens