September 13, 2021

Gate 1: a box of scraps

antique washi (Japanese paper), ca. 1900, photo: courtesy of Mitsui Fine Arts

Some years ago while wandering through an artist book fair, I encountered a woman with great presence, exhibiting a few rare old textile design books from Japan. Amid all the contemporary artist projects, these nineteenth century books were the most compelling works of art I saw that day.

I’m always on the lookout for old paper to use for drawing. On a hunch, I asked the art dealer, Misako Mitsui, whether she had any salvaged or antique Japanese paper available. She thought she might have a box of small scraps somewhere and promised to look for them. I took her card intending to follow up, yet a long time passed without my doing so.

One day recently I received an email notice of an exhibition, a collaboration between Mitsui Fine Arts and another gallery. Recognizing Misako’s name, I contacted her to inquire again about old paper. To my surprise she replied yes, she still had some that might be of interest. A couple of days later she welcomed me into a graceful space installed with centuries’ old objects and paintings from Kyoto along with a few contemporary Japanese works.

Within moments we entered into conversation like old friends. After awhile Misako led me to a viewing room, where a black box sat centered on a table. A small trove of old paper was held within, each sheet unique in character. After completing our transaction we sat down to tea and continued talking for hours. We realized we were meant to do something together.

Léonie Guyer, Untitled, 2020, charcoal on Japanese paper, 6 in. x 4 1/2 in., photo: Graham Holoch

Léonie Guyer, Untitled, 2019, gouache on 19th c. endpaper, 3 1/8 in. x 2 7/8 in., photo: Phillip Maisel


This is the first in a series of three posts.

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