Shiramine Roll Paper and My Work

By Yoshiko Shimano
Associate Professor, Printmaking
University of New Mexico

I was introduced to a roll of Shiramine washi paper over ten years ago and I have used it ever since.  This paper has extended my work in many directions and challenges me to create my prints (works on paper) innovatively.  The rolls of paper allow me to work large. My over-sized prints are composed by joining together a few or many sections of the Shiramine.  This process helps me to create my prints three dimensionally or even four dimensionally. Before I make any matrices (materials to be printed from), I start composing papers, thinking about the overall size, flow of energy, dynamics, physicality and presence of the work based on my concept.  I put the sections of blank papers up in place (on a wall or sometime on a floor for a floor installation work.) In my mind, I can see my images, which I haven’t even printed yet.  It is a most critical stage in my creation process.  If I can see the image, I feel that the work is already successful.

A body of my work “ONE THOUSAND PRAYERS” is my prayer for things I don’t have control over but I have responsibilities toward as one living in this world.   I looked for a kind of printmaking paper, which I could first fold, and then open like origami paper.  Once folded, most printmaking papers start tearing from the fold lines or can’t even be folded because the fibers in the paper are too hard.  Shiramine paper solved these problems.   It has the dual properties of being flexible and strong.

“RETURNING HOME” is a Japanese national flag image based on a story from World War II. People in their hometown or village saw off Japanese soldiers.  The people signed their names and wrote prayers on a national flag. The soldiers often folded the flag small, to be kept in their helmets as they went to the battlefield.   I wanted to express the prayers of the people for their families and friends, and simultaneously present a requiem for the soldiers who desperately had longed to return home.   Similar stories will continue as long as we have war in this world.  I tore the Shiramine paper into the actual flag proportions and folded it small.  Then I opened the paper, added printed and monotype images to create a worn-stained look. This gave the appearance someone had carried it for a long time.

“SADAKO’S DIARY” is based on the story of Sadako, who hoped that her leukemia would be cured once she had folded one thousand paper cranes.  Her and our prayers for peace on this earth are to learn how we can live together without nuclear weapons and that countries don’t use the power of nuclear weapons as a deterrent for self-defense.  Again I tore a square from the Shiramine paper, folded it to make a paper crane, opened it, and then printed images and colors. The colors were based on the testimony of people who witnessed the atomic bomb in Hiroshima.

I would like my work to invite its audience to enter a seemingly infinite and paradoxically intimate space. I like the possibilities of a work “breathing” in its specific environment. The fusion of artwork and space allows for a concentration of attention, much like prayer.   Shiramine washi paper has given me all these possibilities and challenges me to transform the paper, so it no longer speaks as “paper” but has a density of physical presence that is one with its imagery.

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