5 Greatest Kirie Japanese Paper-Cutting Artists You Should Know


5 Greatest Kirie Japanese Paper-Cutting Artists You Should Know

by Teni Wada | CRAFT

© Masayo Fukuda, Umidako

Paper cutting may bring back fond memories of grade school crafts like snowflakes, doilies, and doll chains. But kirie, the art of Japanese paper cutting, is a far cry from such cutsey designs. Kirie artists transform a single sheet of paper into intricate designs inspired by fantasy and nature.

Read on to discover the incredible works of 5 of the best Japanese kirie artists. But first, a little historical background…


What is Kirie?

© Hayashiya Niraku

The word kirie comes from the two kanji 切 kiri, meaning cut, and 絵 e, meaning picture. The art of making pictures by cutting paper took root in Japan in the 7th century as an import from the Chinese mainland. The abundance of sturdy washi paper (find out All You Need To Know About Washi Paper) allowed Japanese artists to transform the artform into a different medium, finally becoming a performance art by the 17th century.

Kamikiri (simply meaning paper cutting), as it was known during the Edo Period, was enacted in front of a live audience against a backdrop of music. Masters took requests and expertly transformed sheets of papers into cutouts upon the request of audience members.

Modern day kirie, while not as flashy as its kamikiri predecessor, is equally entertaining. No matter small or grand the completed project, the process and tools of kirie remain essentially the same: a bladed object deftly cutting away at a single sheet of paper in a process that can take mere minutes or as much as many months to complete.

These 5 Japanese paper artists have revolutionized the kirie art with their contemporary approach to Japanese tradition, with works that effortlessly showcase the versatility of Japanese paper cutting.


1. Nahoko Kojima

© Nahoko Kojima, Shiro Paper Cut Sculpture, 2018

A kirie master with global recognition, Nahoko Kojima’s reinterpretation of traditionally flat mounted paper cut art as large-scale, sculpture-like paper cut creations is based on her childhood memories of lying in a meadow, observing the ever-changing of shadows cast by flowers swaying in the wind. These grand works, often suspended mid-air, prompt the audience to explore the surrounding space and observe how light and angles change one’s perception.

A 2015 collaboration with Bulgari for the brand’s Bridal Art Luxury bridal campaign further bridged the relationship between nature and art. Kojima’s use of doves mid-flights and hearts interwoven into feathers of doves created a timeless, romantic showcased in 90 Bulgari stores across Asia. In this video, she discusses the inspirations behind the campaign.

© Nahoko Kojima, Shiro Paper Cut Sculpture, 2018

Her most ambitious project to date is Shiro, a life-sized recreation of a blue whale made from only 2 sheets of washi paper. Cut and installed by Kojima herself, Shiro took nearly one year to complete before it was unveiled in Bangkok in 2018.


2. Masayo Fukuda

© Masayo Fukuda, Umidako

Kirie reached a new height of global recognition in December 2018 when Masayo Fukuda’s incredibly detailed rendering of an octopus went viral after she unveiled on her official Twitter account. Crafted from a single sheet of A2 paper, Umidako appears at first glance to be a color drawing, but once lifted away from the black backdrop, the sheer amount of intricate detailing on this octopus art is simply astounding.

© Masayo Fukuda, Fish

Living creatures feature prominently in her extensive gallery, which also includes portraits, all elaborately detailed with fine lines. Each work begins as a finely detailed sketch; afterwards, Fukuda uses a precision utility knife to etch away, revealing the final form. A kirie artist with 25 years of experience, Fukuda considers Umidako her greatest work of 2018, which undoubtedly means that we can expect more jaw-dropping works in the years to come!


3. Shu Kubo

© Shu Kubo, A Passing Shower

A mixed media paper cutting artist with a background in architecture, Shu Kubo conducts frequent cultural exchanges and workshops across Europe, Asia, and North America. His series, Across the Border, Japonism of Kirie, is a bridge connecting Japanese culture and customs to the world and is inspired by Kubo’s experience of the devastating Kobe Earthquake in 1995.

© Shu Kubo, Height of Summer, 2006

His career began in 1977 with a debut exhibition that quickly garnered him attention throughout Japan. Afterwards, a stint in Spain solidified his approach to kirie where he combines washi paper, paints, acrylics, fabrics, sand and other materials to create urban cityscapes and Japanese landscapes. This unique approach to kirie led to several collaborations between Japan Post as well as Asahi Beer.


4. Hina Aoyama

© Hina Aoyama, Butterfly

Hina Aoyama uses kirie, an artform with Chinese roots, with the Swiss paper cutting art of Scherenschnitte. Her distinctive fairytale-like lacy creations have captured the public eye since her award winning exhibition at the International Paper Art Triennial in 2008.

Along with authoring several how-to books dedicated to kirie (including Disney-inspired creations), her fantasy works have been displayed across Japan and the globe. From March 2019, her art will also be featured on a line of limited edition skin care products by the Japanese brand Evita. In the video above you can see the process of Aoyama creating one of her masterpieces.

5. Akira Nagaya

© Akira Nagaya, Flowers

Representing another extreme form of kirie, self-taught artist Akira Nagaya draws upon his experience working in a restaurant creating sasabaran, food decorations out of bamboo leaves, to create astonishingly detailed works that are often left literally hanging by a thread. Nagaya’s Ito (thread) series is remarkable: the lines in each piece have been painstakingly carved down to the thickness of a single thread, creating the illusion of a hastily-done sketch.

© Akira Nagaya, Peacock

This gallery features two large collections: Wa and You. Wa consists of Japan-inspired works which features the likeness of kabuki actors, recreation of Katsushika Kokusai’s woodblock prints, Buddhist icons and texts written in kanji. You, on the other hand, features whimsical scenes from nature: a kaleidoscope of butterflies, penguins mid-march, and a school of goldfish. Not to be missed, however, is his Post-It in which he transforms ordinary Post-It notes into irresistibly cute animals and whimsical characters.

Ready to try the art of Japanese paper cutting for yourself? Learn the basics of this intricate craft with a guide from Japanese publisher, Shufu no Tomo: Creative Paper Cutting! Is folding more your scene? Then check out Origami: Helpful Tips & Easy Instructions for Beginners!

April 19, 2019 | Craft

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