Back in October of 2016, I fell down an internet rabbit hole, via facebook no less, that ended up being the rare example of productive inspiration and not just procrastination and time-wasting. A friend shared this article from My Modern Met about a Japanese artist, Chie Hitotsuyama, who creates life-sized animal sculptures entirely from rolled newspaper. I encourage you to click the link to the article and the artist’s website after you finish reading this blog post, as they have more pictures and more animals!
The vast majority of the time that I stumble across a webpage about an artist doing mind-blowingly beautiful things, it’s someone halfway across the world, or, if they are local to Southern California, it’s for a show that has already closed, or that costs a ton of money to go see (I do believe in investing in my arts education, and in supporting arts institutions, but I am also a starving artist who needs to sell a few pieces before she can afford to splurge $25 to see the Diego Rivera/ Picasso show currently at LACMA, for example). On the webpages, I can enjoy the creativity and the skill, and be humbled and inspired by it while examining photos and watching a video, but it rarely goes beyond that as I click away to another page about another thing. But this time, at the end of the video, there was a list of US exhibits of the artists with one in Los Angeles, at Jai & Jai Gallery, that was due to close in just a few days!
I wanted to be sure, so I tried to find information on the gallery’s website, but it only listed information about the exhibit’s opening party and nothing about when the show would end. On the gallery’s facebook page there were more dates listed on the posts promoting the exhibit, but instead of confirming that the closing date was still then in the future, it declared a different closing date, one that was several days in the past!
Sad at the thought of potentially missing my chance to see these creatures in person, I commented on the post and tagged the gallery, to ask for clarification. I was ecstatic when I received the reply that confirmed the original closing date from the video, and I began making a plan to go see it the next day.
The animals were as amazing as the article’s pictures had made them seem! The details, the life-like contours, all created by rolled paper! I was floored by the art before me, and by an awareness of how long each animal must have taken. My newspaper mosaics take hours and hours, and they’re two-dimensional!
I talked with Jomjai, one of the gallery owners, during my visit, and when I suggested that the artist must make a bunch of rolls ahead of time and sort them by color and length, she agreed that was a part of the process.
The connection I felt to Chie’s work grew stronger, knowing that our use of a similar medium gave rise to a similar process.
Jomjai also told me about the larger exhibit on view at MOAH, and I confirmed it would be up until early January 2017, so I made a plan to go that first week of January (after the madness of the holidays was past).
January brought rain and the promise of a new year, and I made the trek out to Lancaster, to MOAH: Cedar to see the larger show. The space itself was still small, but the number of creatures was more than double, and some of them were huge!
Even though it was smaller than most of the other pieces, I think this blue jay was my favorite. But honestly, it was a very tough call, and they were all amazing.
The level of detail and care Chie brought to each piece is evidence of her immense talent and of her strong sense of compassion for animals.
There used to be a video online that showed Chie at work with her voice speaking over it about her process. The video seems to be no longer up anywhere (any article that used to link to it has an error window where the video used to be). In my memory of the video, Chie talked about how the rhinoceros, her first of the animal sculptures, was originally inspired by her awareness of the species’ endangered status. Many of the interviews I am able to find quote her connecting the vulnerability of the animals to the fragility of the paper (and it’s strength once rolled and combined with other rolls). I encourage you to read more about her, and find more images of her creatures! And if you ever get the chance to see any of these pieces in person, DO IT!
If that video ever comes back online, I will link to it here!