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"WASHI: BEAUTY AND FUNCTION"

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(1) Seiji Kunishima, "Byobu 95 -15," mixed media four-panel screen 55 1/2 x 104", 1995.
(2) Joe Goode, "Untitled (O2AC-43)," watercolor/washi paper, 14 x 15", 1993. Photo: Paul Ruscha.
(3) Margaret Prentice, "Kozo," woodcut, 49 x 25", 1995.

by Margarita Nieto

(Palos Verdes Art Center, South Bay; George J. Doizaki Gallery, Japanese American Community and Cultural Center, Downtown) (Palos Verdes Art Center, South Bay; Japanese American Community Cultural Center [JACCC], George J. Doizaki Gallery, Downtown) Synonymous with the art history and culture of Japan, the ancient art of Japanese handmade paper--Washi--is a process that dates back more than 1300 years. Its presence in Japan is tied historically and aesthetically to the combined act of literature and visual art through calligraphy (writing and gestural visual expression). Washi as a medium for self-expression forms the premise of this exhibition of works by ten contemporary artists, including Sam Francis, Joe Goode, Alex Katz, Seiji Kuni-shima, Robert Kushner, Ed Moses, Judy Pfaff, Margaret Prentice, Richard Serra, and Joel Shapiro. Organized by co-curators Hiromi Katayama and Annina Arthur, the exhibiton will also feature a five-day Washi Master Workshop, September ll-l5 presented by sixth generation master papermaker Mr. Minoru Fujimori, Intangible Cultural Property of Tokushima Prefecture, and his son Yoichi Fujimori.

The spirit of this exhibtion lies in the collaborative effort between the vision and execution of the artists and the paper provided and created by the papermaker. Indeed, the paper becomes the physical, material and spiritual basis of the art work in question. And the artistic project becomes an experiment in the means (process) as well as the ends (objective) and thus, a conceptual affirmation of the Zen principle of ego erasure through collaboration.

This process is manifested in the paper itself because as curators Katayama and Arthur explain: "Each sheet is unique and, hence, can be adjusted to the papermaker to comport with the artists' needs. What unites the artists represented in this show is that each has chosen washi as the vehicle to communicate his or her ideas." Richly textured or fine and translucent, the paper is the result of the fib-rous materials of the pulp and the individual techniques of the papermaker. Unlike the traditional and conventional surfaces of Western art making (paper and canvas) washi is palpable, tactile, visual, and a concrete manifestation of humankind's relation to the earth and to the universe.

Ranging from etchings and woodblock prints to watercolor and mixed media, these works reveal the wide technical parameters that the medium allows. Curiously, despite the equally wide expressive range that separates these artists as a group, there is a an aesthetic unanimity in these works, perhaps influenced by or derived from the medium itself.

Joe Goode's Untitled watercolor is a serene composition of overlapping rectangular forms of black shot through with reds and blues lighted from within by the translucent white paper. Ed Moses' Waga #2 allows for an interplay of energetic free-flowing scribbles and blots of reddish ochre and greyish blacks applied against and behind the luminosity of the paper, expressing a subtle alliance with calligraphic language.

Like Goode, Margaret Prentice's woodcut, Kozo, and Richard Serra's Untitled screenprint both focus on blocklike constructions that are vastly different both in feeling and execution. Serra's two contemplative squares of thickly applied inkstick lined with the transluscent white of a thick washi "especially made to re-flect sculptural attributes," according to the curators. Prentice's brilliant colors, on the other hand, emphasize the masterful dominance of rectangular and curvalinear forms, evoking the feeling of an interior/exterior habitat reminiscent of Richard Diebenkorn, with a triple block of white windows, a metaphorical vista of infinity--intensified perhaps by a pool of blue water.

Of all these artists, the late Sam Francis perhaps best exemplified the long-standing Pacific Coast alliance with the Asian aesthetic tradition so well pioneered by Stanton Macdonald Wright and Isamu Noguchi in Los Angeles in the thirties. His chine collé Untitled, produced by master printer Jacob Samuel of the Litho Shop, "allows for a separation of image against the backing" according to Samuel. The result is a brilliant explosion of color that heightens Francis' language. Finally, Seiji Kunishima returns us to a traditional form, the free standing screen. In this mixed media four-panel screen, Byobu becomes a powerful union of the object itself incorporated by and into visual language with cosmic references to light, color and space.