Horiki Eriko: Pioneer on the Washi Frontier

Horiki Washi edited #6

Traditional handmade washi paper can be found everywhere in Japan, from name cards to beautiful wrapping paper.  But washi as large format installation art, using paper tapestries up to 50 feet long, brings this ancient process to a new artistic level altogether.

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Situated in a simple, modern concrete building in a narrow old Kyoto neighborhood is the studio and showroom of one of Japan’s most successful contemporary artists, Horiki Eriko.  Once you see one of her large-scale works, the concept of washi will never be the same.  As Horiki slides one 15 foot long piece of washi art after another on ceiling tracks, the paper reveals snatches of its beauty: thin fibers creating delicate swirls around tiny bits of mulberry bark, long coarse strips of bark floating dramatically in what looks like churning whirlpools. Washi’s inherent beauty is enhanced by light, and as Horiki slowly shifts the light source from the front to the back of the piece, the fibers within the paper become illuminated and then disappear, creating an ethereal experience for the viewer.

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It takes ten skilled workers to produce one of Horiki’s pieces – five artists and five craftsmen in an elaborate, almost choreographed operation.  Horiki explains that washi can be created to specifically match any architectural need or function.  However because the outcome cannot be completely controlled, nature is honored as a part of the collaborative process.

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Horiki came from neither an art nor a craft background.  After working for four years in banking, she moved to the accounting department of a company that specialized in developing products made from washi.  She then came into contact with professional paper artisans in the washi town of Imadate in Fukui Prefecture.  Becoming completely captivated by the workmanship of these craftsmen, she decided to devote herself to this paper production to help ensure that washi making skills handed down over 1500 years would be passed on to the next generation.  Today you will find her works installed provocatively in restaurants, hotel lobbies, and public spaces throughout Japan, bringing drama and exceptional beauty to the surroundings.

One exciting project for Horiki was a collaboration with cellist Yo Yo Ma, a 45 foot long by 12 foot high single piece of washi that became the stage backdrop for his “Silk Road” concert tour.  “Yo Yo Ma first found out about us when he saw our work here in Kyoto,” Horiki explained.  “We talked about the traditional and innovative aspects of washi and new possibilities in music and stage decoration.”  Her team worked to create a set embodying the essence of the Silk Road, the ancient Asian highway that connected peoples of many cultures from east to west.  By using lighting techniques that corresponded to the music, the washi itself became an integral part of the concert.

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Committed to excellence, energized by challenges, talented and hard working, Horiki Eriko is an inspiring example of how traditional Japanese crafts are being reinvented for the 21st century.  Her art is also an example of how the exchange of ideas in our contemporary world influence and enrich one another’s artistic experiences.

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Horiki Washi edited #8

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4 thoughts on “Horiki Eriko: Pioneer on the Washi Frontier

  1. Lana Choy

    Steve: these are AMAZING. The only other time I’ve personally seen washi paper of this scale is the “Ashes and Snow” exhibit in Tokyo in 2008. I’m doubly appreciative hearing and seeing of this, as I’ve purchased tickets for Yo-Yo Ma’s “Silk Road Ensemble” when they perform at Zellerbach Hall (UC Berkeley) in April 2011. It’ll be fascinating to see the washi paper backgrounds then! Happy New Year!

  2. Dianne Vapnek

    This adaptation and evolution of traditional arts to contemporary life is spectacular. Thanks for bringing such artistry to our attention. Eager to see the work “in person!”

  3. louise strawbridge

    dear steve,
    from time to time, I click on to your website (it’s on my favorites list) and am always entranced. this time, the large washi paper has inspired me for my day in my studio. I’ve been working with pig gut and today’s work will be to stretch it and stitch it to make some really large pieces………….will let you know how it worked out.
    thanks for the time you put into making such an interesting and important documentation of your japanese contacts in the arts.
    Louise

  4. David Allen

    Steve, as you know, Horiki custom-created an incredible 4-piece sliding panel for our conference room in OJai, California. There’s really nothing that can do justice to describe the subtle, sublime and radiant energy that permeates our office because of her piece. So many thanks for your prescience in connecting us with Horiki in Kyoto. Her work, through you, will give great pleasure and upliftment for many, for many years.

    Thanks.

    David Allen
    Chairman and CEO – The David Allen Company