FLEX at Loop Gallery (1174 Queen West), to June 15. 416-516-2581. And WASHI OVER TIME: LAYERS OF MEANING IN JAPANESE PAPER at the Japan Foundation (131 Bloor West), to July 10. 416-966-1600. Both part of the WORLD WASHI SUMMIT (www.worldwashisummit.com). Rating: NNNN
Is there anything more inspiring to an artist than a pristine rectangle of exquisite handmade paper?
The World Washi Summit celebrates these strong yet ethereal sheets, laboriously crafted from plant bark in Japan for over 1,000 years. It’s still a living tradition, though much diminished in modern times.
If you’re unfamiliar with the material, Washi Over Time provides a fascinating historical and cultural primer. Because of its papermakers’ amazing skill, Japan truly became a paper culture. Artifacts show paper’s role in architecture, warfare, art and spirituality. Sheets of chiyogami (printed decorative paper used in origami and other crafts), their patterns borrowing from textile techniques, stand as works of art in their own rightFor contemporary takes on washi, the Summit features gallery shows like Flex, Loop Gallery members’ lovely and evocative prints, collages and drawings on washi.
Birds make an appearance in many: Libby Hague, a specialist at combining prints and collage, sets a cut-out crow perching menacingly above long paper strings of chandelier beads; JJ Lee’s delicate, tiny painting is layered Japanese-style on other sheets of paper; and Candida Girling’s blue pigeon etching series lends dignity to the urban species, using overlapping transparent layers to suggest the birds’ proliferation.
Relief printers Liz Parkinson (rows of black Japanese-crest-style flowers on a very large sheet), David Holt (small black plants on origami paper) and Isabelle Hémard (masterful layers of intense colours) offer bold, semi-abstract plant forms.
Among expressive works using the human figure, Martha Eleen’s etching series of a sad boy, Rochelle Rubinstein’s dark multimedia prints of couples embracing and Maureen Paxton’s collaged drawing of a frightened child stand out.
It’s one of many Summit shows in which artists meet the challenge of these beautiful surfaces.