Keiko Tsuji’s kiri-e
Cutting out hidden shapes from a piece of paper
We see printed materials such as newspapers, flyers, photo prints, and postage stamps in our everyday lives. Artist Keiko TSUJI is producing kiri-e (paper cutout) works that abound in expressions and movements by cutting out the human figures hidden in these printed materials from her original point of view.
Produced by pasting pieces of paper with different textures and tones together, Ms. Tsuji’s hari-e (collage) works are also attracting attention as another form of visual expression.
Her hari-e works are used in the opening video for Toto Neechan, a serialized TV drama broadcast by Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK).
In this issue, we focus on diverse works crafted by Ms. Tsuji, an energetic artist who is attracting keen interest from a broad range of people.
Born in Tokyo in 1975, kiri-e artist and illustrator Keiko Tsuji graduated from Bunka Gakuin’s Department of Literature. Ms. Tsuji crafts her kiri-e and hari-e works using her original techniques, printed materials, and unneeded pieces of paper as her medium. She has exhibited her works not only in Japan but also in other countries such as Hong Kong, France, and Sweden. Ms. Tsuji produces artworks across genres in a wide range of fields, including picture books made of kiri-e, hari-e and watercolors, line drawings and lettering. In September 2016, Fukuinkan Shoten Publishers, Inc. published Kage-wa Doko (Where Are Shadows?), the first picture book that featured Ms. Tsuji’s works (hari-e) in 2003.
Keiko TSUJI is a kiri-e artist who cuts figures out of materials we see in everyday lives such as newspapers, flyers, photo prints and wrapping paper. Her works are cut freehand from pieces of paper. They are clothed in colors and patterns as if they were painted separately in advance. They look as if they could start to move at any moment. They have expressions reminiscent of scenes in a theatrical or dance piece. Ms. Tsuji’s works, made with her original technique for cutting out hidden figures in flat surfaces, such as the method of likening parts of black letters to human hair, have appeared on many book and magazine covers, illustrations, picture books, CD jackets, and more. Using another expression, hari-e, Ms. Tsuji has worked on five picture books (three of which have also been published overseas). Ms. Tsuji has expanded her support base to a broad range of people of all ages and genders, thanks to the use of her works in the opening video for Toto Neechan, a serialized TV drama, which was broadcasted until this October on NHK, and in the music video for its theme song performed by Hikaru UTADA.
As an artist, Ms. Tsuji is working in diverse fields, including kiri-e, hari-e, and illustrations. The origin of Ms. Tsuji’s creative activities is her childhood environment. “When I was a child, I loved cutting out jewels from flyers, using the sharp scissors that even the adults found a little too dangerous to use,” remembers Ms. Tsuji. “In addition to that, my father’s work involved advertisements such as TV commercials and graphic design. So, in my father's room, I could see various kinds of art books, paper samples, artist's materials.” Familiarity with paper from her early years and contact with many visual expressions have led Ms. Tsuji to her current broad range. After graduating from senior high school, Ms. Tsuji made up her mind to study art and British and American literature, and entered Bunka Gakuin, which focuses on the education of both. “I was enrolled in the Department of Literature,” recalls Ms. Tsuji. “It was meaningful for me to study languages during those three years. I think learning not only languages, such as Japanese and foreign languages, but also the perspectives that poets adopt to view the world and words for expressing personal works was worthwhile for me as an artist. A work does not end when its creation is completed. Talking about your creation to the people who are interested in your work is an important thing.” Ms. Tsuji does not make light of a single word of explanation, needless to mention works she has crafted. Such an attitude has been a great force to share her charm.
- Style Asahi, a booklet distributed to the subscribers of a newspaper, featuring Ms. Tsuji’s work on its cover for 12 issues over one year from April 2015.
- Kakureta Katachi 123 (Hidden Shapes 123) (2008) and Maaku-no Nakani Kakureta Katachi (Shapes Hidden in Marks) (2009), picture books to which Ms. Tsuji contributed her kiri-e works
- Ms. Tsuji produced design artworks and title letterings for a catalog of publications Chuokoron-Shinsha, Inc. issued for nine years from 2006 to 2014.
- Ms. Tsuji created these works using foreign postage stamps for an exhibition at Konica Minolta Plaza in 2009.
- A poster of Papier - Kami, a group exhibition held at Le Poulailler in France (2014)
After graduating from Bunka Gakuin, Ms. Tsuji enrolled in an art school that has produced a large number of successful illustrators in a broad range of artistic fields. She found a clue for her own production technique while taking classes centered on practical skills, such as sketching and watercolor painting. “The beauty of the colors in torn pieces of paper took my breath away when I ripped up a failed watercolor before throwing it away,” reflects Ms. Tsuji. “The failed watercolor might have been worthless as a painting, but there were beautiful pieces in that picture. Realizing that, I began cutting out beautiful pieces and playing with them. Interesting works emerged as I kept playing with them.” Ms. Tsuji was able to discover an artistic form of expression that was only noticed by her by capturing objects from a different perspective from normal and viewing things through a sensibility and filter of her own.
Subsequently, Ms. Tsuji took her first step as an artist by holding the first solo exhibition at an art gallery at Bunka Gakuin. Ms. Tsuji has continued to energetically create since that time. She holds solo exhibitions several times each year, with a total of 41 by now. “One exhibition in France was particularly memorable,” recalls Ms. Tsuji. “I exhibited works centered on Japanese fonts and Ukiyo-e postage stamps there because it was a joint exhibition with paper artists from France and the Netherlands. Many people seemed surprised ti see my works. It made me realize that paper and paper arts are universal.” The attraction of Ms. Tsuji’s works is spreading across national borders through her solo exhibitions in Japan and overseas.
I sense how this piece of paper wants to be
and help it take on the form in the way it desires.
Shapes of figures and animals that we would not ordinarily see in printed materials appear in a matter of seconds after Ms. Tsuji starts to cut paper in a single line, with a pair of scissors in her hand. Instead of following a picture in her mind, Ms. Tsuji explains that her body responds naturally during this process. The feeling is close to a reflex. “Unkei and Michelangelo BUONARROTI left similar words,” notes Ms. Tsuji. “I empathize with them a lot. I sense how this piece of paper wants to be and help it take on the form in the way it desires.” Ms. Tsuji’s works are born out of her abundant and sharpened sensibility that synchronizes with the paper.
A big turning point came to the artist at the beginning of this year. Ms. Tsuji’s work was chosen to be featured in the opening video for Toto Neechan, a serialized TV drama to be broadcast by Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK). “Video director Junko OGAWA asked me to produce hari-e works for the video,” says Ms. Tsuji, looking back. “The choice of textures and paper dyeing, including shades of color, are important for hari-e. Producing hari-e takes time because I got to cut out body parts, such as arms, legs, and heads, one by one. In addition to that, the work embodying many motifs was a battle against time. In the creative stage, I had not read a script for the drama. Sometimes I noticed later that this picture had been that character.” Ms. Tsuji’s hari-e works expressed the positive attitude protagonist Tsuneko KOHASHI had for living sincerely and the worldview of warmhearted people around her during a short period of time allotted to the opening video. They blended brilliantly with the theme song performed by Hikaru Utada. They must have reached the hearts of many Toto Neechan viewers as refreshing visuals that gave them a boost as they prepared for another new day that was about to unfold.
- A self-planned hari-e handicraft kit published to correspond to a solo exhibition
- and (4) Hari-e works that appear in the opening video for Toto Neechan, a serialized TV drama broadcast by NHK
- Kage-wa Doko (Hey, Shadow!), a picture book containing Ms. Tsuji’s hari-e works, which Fukuinkan Shoten Publishers, Inc. published as part of its monthly picture book series in 2003. The book’s Korean language edition went on sale in 2008.
Something beautiful is hidden in the very things we often overlook.
Paper has always been at the center of Ms. Tsuji’s creative activities. “I read an episode of (a cartoonist) Osamu TEZUKA when I was a little girl,” offers Ms. Tsuji. “I still remember it. He obtained cigarette wrapping paper in the postwar period when paper was still precious. He drew cartoons on that paper. I myself did things like creating a big sheet of paper by pasting used pieces of paper together and drawing a big picture on it when I began working as an artist. Such a sense is still with me. I find it luxurious to buy a brand-new sheet of paper to draw a picture. Using such a sheet makes me a little bit nervous.” There is a sense of cherishing paper in her approach of using many types of paper that have fulfilled their original functions, such as newspapers and flyers. “I can produce my works with things around me, too. They demand no special materials or tools for artwork, such as a canvas and paint,” explains Ms. Tsuji with a twinkle in her eyes. “To use cooking as an example, I can make dishes that are tasty enough, using leftovers in my refrigerator, instead of foie gras and caviar. It’s like that. Doesn’t that make you feel happier?” There are many types of printed materials that we usually ignore. We might be able to find something hidden and interesting in them if we look hard at them from a different perspective.