Kyoko Ibe, one of Japan's most innovative paper artists, creates largescale installations with washi, traditional Japanese paper, and also designs many objects with handmade paper. Her lighting is highly sought after in the United States and soon a line of wallpapers will be available through Anya Larkin in New York. Larkin, a fine artist, creates "fine silk canvases" for many of the world's best-known couturiers, and her unique rice paper metallic wallcoverings, a favorite of the world's most high-end decorators, are in the permanent collections of the Louvre's Decorative Arts Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
Ibe has headed the Japan Paper Academy since 1988, a position of great prestige since papermaking in Japan has customarily been viewed as an honorable profession and there are only a few hundred papermaking families, each of whom passes down the secrets of the trade to the younger generations. Washi, which is made from the thin skin found between the core and bark of the mulberry tree, has for centuries played an important role in Japanese culture, used in screens, furniture and even costumes. It is best-known as a writing or painting medium and as the translucent material found in traditional Japanese shoji screens.
When Ibe began working with the soft, highly fibrous material in the 1960s, few artists considered using washi. Ibe, however, loved its translucence. "It is both light and strong," she says, "and there are many techniques you can use to adapt it with other materials."
Her first washi works were small pieces, mostly toys, lamps and furniture she made for her own pleasure. An article about her designs drew much interest and in the 1970s she began to be invited to exhibit her work, which grew in scale to become huge installations, such as floor-to-ceiling filets of washi, shimmering down like a curtain of rain, or horizontal ribbons, suspended one on top of the other in mid-air, in atriums, lobbies and museums. Some of her installations look like flocks of origami-style crane. She constructs the sculptures from numerous bits of washi, folded, twisted or glued together.
In the mid-1980s, Ibe began to be commissioned to create backdrops for dance and theater productions, winning the Isadora Duncan Award for her stage design at the San Francisco Performance Festival in 1997 at the Palace of Fine Art. At the same time, she was exhibiting in a number of European countries, as well as in the United States.
Ibe's upcoming exhibition at the Calvin Charles Gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona, will feature her contemporary creations, including lighting, from February 5 to March 5.