Washi Umi O Koete/ Paper from across the Sea

Publication: The Times.   
November 2017

THE term ‘artisan’ is much used, and abused, nowadays ­­– at worst it’s a banal piece of marketing jargon used to attach inflated price to a mediocre product.

But the work in this show by 13 artists (from Fife and Dunfermline Printmakers Workshop), who have collaborated with three Japanese papermakers, from the celebrated Mino region in the south-west of the country, is certainly deserving of the description. In its truest sense an artisan is an expert craftsperson who has honed their skills over a long period, inheriting their knowledge from past generations.  Japan is famed for its related hand skills such as as wood-working, ceramics, tool making, and printmaking. The last is perhaps the best known, as it has presented the western world with images, known collectively in Japan as Uyiko-e (the floating world).

Paper-making is an important part of Japan’s craft heritage and here three celebrated exponents – Yukiyo Terada, Masashi Sawamura and Takanori Senda – have made different types of paper using traditional, non mechanical methods, involving mulberry pulp (kozo), fresh, running water and a bamboo mould.  Historically the use of such papers has been widespread, ranging from clothing to origami, but here it finds its ultimate use, as the basis for a series of diverse prints from a number of highly talented artists, usually with distinctive Scottish subject matter.

Aine Scannell’s Selkie (an etching and wood intaglio) is printed on Senda’s paper and shows the human-seal hybrid floating in an aquamarine sea. It’s a delicate but bold image, like a number here, including Bill McKechnie’s Adrift, a series of abstract forms against a blue ground, printed on Terada’s paper.  Catherine King’s Connections shows three bridges that now span the Forth at Queensferry. King comments that, after she had printed the initial etching, and the first layer of silkscreen colour, the special quality of Senda’s paper gave the work “depth and luminosity”.

One of the richest aspects of this show is its documentary aspect: publications, tools, and equipment used in the paper-making process have been arranged in a series of thoughtful displays; and a video and other material allows the mysteries of traditional printmaking to be unpacked.

Although some of the imagery is predictably traditional, and visually conservative, there’s enough here to suggest more ambitious and diverse future collaborations.

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