Fellowships 2018

I was born and raised in Japan, where all schoolchildren learn calligraphy. This craft, along with Japanese ink painting (called “Sumi-e”), provides the foundation and inspiration for my practice. In my current series of work, I am exploring the relationship between written language and image on both paper substrate and in dimensional installations.

My paintings begin as densely layered linguistic compositions expressing a particular theme. For a native Japanese speaker, occasionally characters can be glimpsed and read in the literal sense. Yet more often, these layers explore possible nuances of a phrase or phrases, introducing complexity and contradictions. I use watercolor paper for its ability to capture the ink of a brush; calligraphy is a dance, frozen in time, which once executed cannot be revisited. As in the Japanese tradition of the craft, I am a performer on the surface of the paper as I choose those aspects of the language I wish to reveal, and those I may wish to wash away in ambiguity.

My installation work, by contrast, transforms the viewer into participant. In the traditional format of Japanese calligraphy, seals (which to Western eyes resemble stamps) serve as signifiers depending on their placement on the paper. The words or phrases-the literal characters on each seal-provide one meaning; the placement provides yet another. I have decoded and reinterpreted this reading by forming single lines of seals and have fashioned them into Mobius strips which are then suspended in space. Because the characters that comprise the seals are being presented without their calligraphic context, I am providing a blank canvas of sorts that serves as an invitation to the viewer to complete the work. The viewer brings their own emotional state, adds their own words and phrases both physically and metaphorically, and becomes the missing element—a human, corporeal calligraphic form themselves.