The ancient art of chigiri-e

Photos by Leanne Lai

Taiwanese artist and pianist Leanne Lai celebrates Japanese culture and demonstrates passion, beauty and unwavering patience in her Chigiri-e Paper Art: Flowers exhibit and workshop, suitable for all ages.

“I feel chigiri-e is important to me as it is so beautiful. Very few people know about this unique art form,” says Lai. “I have enjoyed so many years of doing this art and want others to feel that joy as well.”

Photos by Leanne Lai

Hosted by VanDusen Bloedel and the Vancouver Botanical Gardens Association, people of all ages are welcome to learn about the chigiri-e art form and create artwork alongside Lai on June 29. Audiences will also be able to view Lai’s previous works made with this technique, specifically her serene yet dynamic displays of nature.

A long-lived traditional art from

Chigiri-e is a traditional Japanese art form that entails using torn strips of dyed paper, called washi, to create intricate and seamless images. At first glance, the artwork may resemble a watercolour or oil painting, but, upon further inspection, the fragile texture of the paper is visible. No paint is used in chigiri-e, only fibrous papers and rice glue.

When following the chigiri-e technique, the thickness, quality, fibre content and graduation of the dye of the washi are all taken into consideration. While being mindful of the depth and texture of the artwork, the pieces of the washi are then carefully pasted onto an art board. Chigiri-e is often described as ‘painting with paper,’ for its stunning and unbelievable attention to detail.

Chigiri-e has a long history in Japan. The use of washi to create images dates back to the Heian period, nearly a millennium ago, when it was used in conjunction with calligraphy and poetry. This practice evolved into a way for artists to creatively depict beauty and fragility and quickly spread across various parts of Asia. Today, chigiri-e is used to create both realistic and abstract images, open to artists of all skill levels and ages.

A multifaceted artist

Lai moved to Canada from Taiwan several years ago with extensive knowledge on piano. She began playing the instrument when she was ten years old, and pursued piano and voice in her post-secondary years. After moving to Toronto, she was able to obtain her ARCT and enjoyed teaching and performing piano for many years.

When Lai moved to Vancouver, she worried her teaching career would suffer due to her lack of fluency in the English language. The language barrier between her and others frustrated her at times, but, luckily, she was able to overcome it. After some time, Lai decided to focus on her chigiri-e art, and, for a handful of years, she took her time understanding and perfecting the technique.

She initially found it difficult to share her artwork because it seemed no one knew about chigiri-e. Despite this, she persevered. Since then, her artwork has been featured in not only Vancouver, but Koahsiung, Taiwan, as well. Her unique handmade cards can be found at various local flower shops in Vancouver, and she has taken part in numerous festivals such as the Harmony Arts Festival Exhibition in 2018 and 2019. In addition, her artwork is exhibited at the Yosef Wosk Library & Resource Centre until August of this year.

Lai has many ambitions for the future. She hopes to improve as an artist and share her expertise across different parts of Vancouver. She also wishes to teach more artists in the community about Chigiri-e through exhibitions, festivals and workshops, such as the upcoming one at Van Dusen.

“I sell handmade cards in local flower shops so I will continue to do that and find more shops if I can,” she says. “I plan to just keep doing my art, doing shows where I can and teaching those who are willing.”

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