ELLEN AVRIL: Good afternoon. My name is Ellen Avril. I'm the co-interim director, chief curator and curator of Asian art here at the Johnson Museum. To those of you in the audience here today and to those who are watching on the Cornell live stream, welcome to the Johnson Museum and to the 2018 Stoikov Lecture.
Through an endowment established by Dr. Judith Stoikov, Cornell class of 1963. The able to annually invite a distinguished artist or scholar in the field of Asian Art to Cornell University to deliver a public lecture at the museum.
We are deeply grateful to Judith for the establishment of this lecture series and for the many ways that her support has benefited the Johnson Museum's Asian art collection, its exhibitions and programs. Judith serves as a member of the museum's advisory council and she's in the audience today. So please join me in thanking her for her generosity.
The annual Stoikov Lectureship is now in its seventh year. And we're pleased to welcome Kyoto-based artist Sarah Brayer to talk about her work. A native of Rochester, New York, Sarah Brayer studied printmaking in London and at Connecticut College. Shortly after graduating with a BA in art cum laude, she embarked on a backpacking journey in Japan and became entranced with Kyoto.
She then settled there and has lived and worked in Japan for more than 30 years. Sarah studied woodblock printmaking with Toshi Yoshida, the son of Hiroshi Yoshida, important shin-hanga artist.
She later chose aquatint as her preferred medium for printmaking and set up her studio-- her first studio near Daitoku-ji Temple in Kyoto and now works from a studio in northern Kyoto. Sarah has exhibited widely in Japan and the United States.
In 2014, her poured paper works were shown at the Castellani Art Museum at Niagara University. And she currently has an exhibition at the Ren Brown Collection in Bodega Bay, California. Her work has been collected by many museums, including the British Museum, the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts at the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, Cincinnati Art Museum, Shimonoseki Museum of Art, Byodoin Temple in Kyoto, Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, New York, Smith College Museum of Art, Worcester Art Museum, and the Johnson Museum among others.
The Johnson Museum's poured washi paper mural, Oceanic Moon, by Sarah Brayer was acquired through the generosity of Judah Stoikov and is being exhibited for the first time in the Moon Exhibition just outside this room. It is a meditative and immersive work that I encourage you to take the time to experience.
In 2013, Japan's Ministry of Culture awarded its Commissioner's Award Bunkacho Chokan Hyosho to Sarah Brayer for international dissemination of Japanese culture through her unique creations in Echizen washi. Please give a warm welcome to Sarah Brayer.
SARAH BRAYER: Thank you, Ellen. Thank you, Judith. And thank you all for coming tonight.
Today I'd like to tell you about my love affair with Japanese paper which is also called washi and how it led me to something magical. In 1979, I came to Japan with a backpack, a one-way ticket, and wanderlust. Having just graduated from Connecticut College, I was a young artist wanting to see more of the world.
Born in Rochester, New York, the eldest of five children, I had decided I was an artist around the age of 13. I had the urge to travel fueled by my father who traveled for business and sent us postcards along the way.
The other thing that influenced me was my experience as an exchange student in London the year before. I knew I had to see more of the world. Hitchhiking around Japan, I got as far as Kyoto, the cultural heart of Japan. After about a month there, I set up a little studio in a 4 and 1/2 matte room and started to go outside to sketch my surroundings.
My earliest works were black and white and reminiscent of an earlier time in Kyoto. This photo is from the turn of the century and shows the Nishijin kimono dyers of Kyoto rinsing their works in the Horikawa River. I would live in this neighborhood for close to 10 years.
The river is no longer used by the dyers. But many crafts people have their workshops in the area. I had trained in painting and printmaking and had some knowledge of etching. Because of the difficulty of the language, I decided to continue with the medium that I was familiar with.
My first etchings reflected the world around me. This print is the view from my tiny apartment balcony. I could look out from this little perch to the skyline of Kyoto. I made the pencil sketch for the plates there and then etched the plate inside my little kitchen, a one half size tatami room.
Printing was done at a local studio run by a kind woman named Yoshiko, who had studied in Paris and understood the challenges I faced having had little language training. She was humorous and kind, and we developed a friendship. She also introduced me to a group of printmakers in Kyoto.
This is Snow Gust, an etching that dates from 1983. Around this time, I started to explore atmosphere and gradation. Growing up in Rochester, New York, I have an affinity for snow. Kyoto snow usually falls in the early morning and melts by noon.
The narrow streets and distant hills were right outside my door. This print is called Kurodani, a temple on the eastern slope of Kyoto. It was printed on copper plates with the snow created by dropping talcum powder onto the plate. It was the beginning of me adding touches to the prints which would make each one unique.
Kyoto's a city that reveals itself slowly layer by layer. Night rituals abound. And so when I was out, I often gathered images for new prints. This is Blue Kyoto from 1987. The Kamo River runs through downtown Kyoto with numerous bridges to the north. I often crossed those bridges on my bicycle.
Gozan no Okuribi, or the five mountain festivals of summer are lit on the surrounding mountains of Kyoto and are unique to Japan. They welcome the spirits of the ancestors back for the Obon weekend in August. This fire's the character for die or large. It can be seen from many areas of the city.
The stark light in an otherwise field of black is one inspiration for my Luminosity series. I am also attracted to the changing element of light and perception. Here's a moon floating like a character in the dark sky.
By 1984, I moved into color aquatint with the help of New York printer Kathy Caraccio. Spending six months in New York Kathy, taught me the nuances of printing a la poupée, a technique developed by printers in the Impressionist era in France where different parts of the plate are inked with beautiful color blends.
This photo was taken recently of the print Day Glows from 1984 and depicts New York City in the dawn. Then in 1986, while visiting New York, I had a moment which changed my life. I wanted to make my own paper to print on. And so at the advice of a friend went to visit a paper studio in Soho.
As I watched the paper process before me, I thought, why make sheets to print on when this is a medium to paint with? That's what I should be doing in Japan-- painting in paper. I flew back to Kyoto intent on finding a place to experiment with handmade Japanese paper.
The very next week upon the introduction of my local paper shop in Kyoto, I went to the 800-year-old paper making village of Imadate. Imadate in Echizen Prefecture-- I'm sorry-- in Fukui Prefecture also known as Echizen, is near the Japan sea and home to 900 paper making related families, most of whom work in small studios. The Otaki shrine is a masterpiece of shrine architecture. It is dedicated to the goddess of paper making.
A text records the making of paper in Echizen region from 774 AD. Washi was recognized as an intangible cultural heritage by the Japanese government, and this Otaki shrine was reconstructed 15 years ago by local craftsmen. This is the entrance to the shrine.
At the Taki Paper Mill I was introduced to the family of paper makers who I've worked with ever since. The women assist me in manipulating the large screens and any technical issues that arise. This picture was taken in 1988. As you can see, the team is all women who do most of the handmade paper making at this particular mill which specializes in large paper for doors.
Here's an example of what is known as fusuma paper doors which I made for an entrance in Kyoto. In the front of the building is a small shop, and behind the paper doors is a kitchen. Japanese washi or paper is unique because it is made from plant fibers.
This is Kozo also known as paper mulberry. It is grown as a bush and is a renewable resource which can be cut each year and then grows back to its original size.
Here is a comparison of Western wood pulp and eastern Japanese washi. Mitsumata, a type of Daphne, or Edgeworthia chrysantha is another fiber. The inner bark of the plant is used for paper making.
Other fibers called asa or linen on the left, gampi on the right, and mitsumata in the middle, which we just saw, are also used. The branches are boiled and stripped of their outer bark and then dried. Then they are boiled in an alkaline solution to remove the starch, fat, and tannin, and rinsed in running water to remove the lye.
The fibers may be bleached by water or chemically. All impurities are taken out by hand. The fiber is long, silky, feathery, and resilient. It has an inherent beauty unique to the material. Women process the long mitsumata fibers that become paper by hand tearing them into even lengths so that they flow consistently.
This they do in the water all day long. Here's an example of mulberry paper with short and long fibers. It is similar to the paper in Oceanic Moon. The left side has an etching printed on it. The screens which the washi is poured onto are made of silk and are coated with persimmon juice to make them impervious to water.
Teamwork is a part of the process of making the large sheets. This method uses a large boat to rock the screen back and forth. Washi is strong because the layers are created in this way and the fibers interlock.
Drawing the paper is done on smooth cypress boards by two skilled craftsmen. Current practices are not too different from those of the Edo period several hundred years ago. My early paperworks explored texture and scale in landscape. Biwako Blue from 1988, which was exhibited in a solo show at Byodoin Temple as part of Kyoto's 1,200 year anniversary in 1993. I was challenged to work larger than before.
Spreading the fibers onto the screen is a tactile experience. For me, it is akin to painting except that I'm using a dyed fiber instead of paint. So all the color that you see is actual dyed paper fiber.
Color and contrast were my interests in this work Katsuta Squares, 2010 commissioned for a restaurant in Oakland, California. Katsuta refers to the imperial villa in Kyoto known for its indigo checked paper doors.
Moonlight and the night sky are themes that followed me into the medium. This piece is called Singing The Blues. Crescent, 2009, is a four panel paperwork with aquatint embedded into the wet paper.
The two panels in the middle hold the printed elements. The fibers are poured to swirl and imitate the night sky. It was shown in an exhibit called Celestial Threads at the Asian Art Museum in 2015. Light is the unifying theme in my work. But I wondered, could I take it a step further and make works that were self illuminating?
About this time, I learned about phosphorescent pigments that could hold a charge of light when exposed to daylight. Could I add these special pigments directly to the Japanese paper fibers and make art in which the light was coming from within the work itself? I was excited to try.
The first test in the dark looked promising. These are the larger first luminosity prototypes lying on my studio floor. I gazed at them from above in my loft looking for where the moonlight was coming from.
SPEAKER: Imagine an art exhibition beginning in a darkened room. Our eyes search to find edges in the darkness that explains the imagery. There is mystery and a glow coming from the art itself. These works look completely different in the light as if they were two different works altogether. This is the Luminescent Washi Paperworks [AUDIO OUT] Sarah Brayer.
SARAH BRAYER: One of the things to me that's interesting about this work is that I'm basically creating works that will be seen in two completely different situations. One is in daylight, which is the state where I'm creating it. And the other is at night.
SPEAKER: In her latest series, Luminosity Brayer has created washi paperworks that incorporate photo luminescent pigments into the light areas of the image. Excited by exposure to sunlight, these unique paperworks have an afterglow of several hours in the dark.
Sarah Brayer has worked in the historic washi paper center of Echizen, Japan since 1986. She works in this 800-year-old village, home to living national treasure paper makers.
SARAH BRAYER: I'm very fortunate to work in one of the paper's studios in this historic village. What originally drew me to washi as a medium was its very fluid and dynamic quality. When I first went into the paper mill and saw the size of the screens, I immediately knew that this was the place that I wanted to work.
I think about how to create the feeling of a light that's coming from within. One of the beauties of using the luminescent pigments is that the light is right in the washi.
SARAH BRAYER: That shows you the basic process that's used for all the poured paperworks. After the work is taken off the screen, the screen is set up again in the same position. And I start the next work. So one of the challenges is that I can only really work at one piece at a time. This is a more recent work. It's called Snow Lion Moon. And it also has luminescent pigment.
The works in the Luminosity series may be recharged indefinitely by daylight without losing their intensity. Now I'd like to show a few photos of Oceanic Moon while I was making it. Here's one of the colors sketches which would be used to match color and create patterns to size.
This is the work in progress. Here, you can see the mockup design which has been divided into five panels. It's in both black and white and color. The two panels with the moon are being worked on in this photo. The brown paper covers the area of the moon, which I've already poured in white so that I can pour the colored paper around it to create the layers of sky.
The light blues in the piece are printed aquatints which I have embedded into the work while it's wet. The surrounding ocean sky is poured free-hand over the aquatints in the wet paper. On the distant table, you can see a pile of light blue prints that go into the work. They are under some pattern papers that have already been used. The moon is covered by a stencil.
Here are the first two panels with all the areas completed. They will be moved over to the stack and cooched onto a sheet of cotton. Then the screen will be removed, and I will begin two more panels. Because of the size of the equipment and the space constraints, I'm only able to work at two panels at once. So one of the challenges is to keep the same feeling throughout the pouring of the image.
This is a closeup of the moon. In this particular technique, everything is extremely beautiful when it's wet. And it goes through quite a transformation as it dries.
After the work came back to my studio and I hung it on my wall, my friend Melissa, a dancer, came and did an interpretive piece in front of Oceanic Moon.
Oceanic Moon went with me to China where I did a fellowship in 2011. We hung it in a small garage on the night of the September Moon Festival in China. Villagers from Mutianyu near the Great Wall came to see the work. And then we all ate moon cakes.
Later, the work was exhibited along with glass pieces, which I created at a different space in the same village. I was inspired to try the phosphorescent pigments in glass while I was in China. No one could really tell me if they would work or not. So I brought them along in my suitcase.
This is the work that has phosphorescents in the center area-- the white of the moon. And I'm sorry I didn't photograph it in the dark. This is the back of the piece. Shortly after returning from China, Ellen came to visit me in Kyoto and saw Oceanic Moon for the first time. She viewed it from different angles in my studio.
After it was gifted to the Johnson Museum in 2011 and moved into drawers, here you can see the tabs on the work left for hanging the piece. Another work called Tsuki or Moon, which is in the show, was created using two paintings for the character moon. They were layered together using paper fiber as the bond.
I looked in my slides and I found this picture of the work in progress. Here's one of the paintings sitting on the screen with paper poured around it. The second painting was done on a very sheer paper and was laid on top.
Here's the finished piece at the [INAUDIBLE] in Kyoto. They are trying on the various silk combinations that will be used as mounting. I made the scroll ends on the scroll and had them fired in a friend's kiln in Kyoto.
The first step in making a smaller paper moon is to prepare fiber with phosphorescent pigment. This is mitsumata fiber which I chose because it has a short, feathery quality. A stencil is placed on a screen to catch the fiber. This is an adjustable cake mold which I found to be just perfect.
Each moon is poured by hand using the stencil and measuring cup full of fiber. In this case, I purposely made the moon larger than what was needed knowing that I will tear it down later. Here are the moons drawing outside.
And the moons once they have been torn down. I make a small line using a brush and water and then tear up to that line. I made 250 crescent moons which I took with me to the print studio to make the piece here called Crescent Glow. I was able to do the gluing on Saturdays when the rest of the place was quiet.
This is a silk screen studio housed in an old kimono uzun dyeing factory which is why the boards are so long. They're actually long enough for two lengths of kimono fabric. Each of the image-- the prints that you see here has been silk-screened using eight screens and then reversed and glued back onto the board so that I can add the final step, which is the phosphorescent moon.
I'm positioning the moon for gluing in this slide. Then I apply a wheat starch, which acts as glue and hit the moon using what's called a hitting brush so that the fibers interlock with the fibers below.
All the prints came back to my studio in June for curation and signing. This is maybe 40 out of the 250. It was a commission for the Print Club of New York in 2017. Each piece, of course, has different fiber in the paper. And each piece has a different moon. So they are, in fact, unique impressions.
A recent series I'm working on employs thin paper veils over a luminescent moon. This work is called Infinite and it is part of my Red Thread series. This is the finished piece.
Inspiration surrounds me from outside my studio to inside our garden-- temple pathways like my favorite at Koto-in Daitoku-ji, light and shadows, the seasons, the vast sky and shades of blue, the deep sea below and above-- this is an etching from 2014 of the Japan Sea-- innovative designs and attention to detail.
Working with a team of paper makers and printers links me to a long tradition that crosses cultures and oceans. I feel blessed by the support I have received in Japan and to you in enabling me to show my work at the Johnson Museum. Thank you very much.
SARAH BRAYER: We have a little time for questions? Yes.
AUDIENCE: Hi. I love that. But I have a very mundane question. In the earlier slides where you were showing the process with the large pieces and you say you only work on two panels at a time. Is that actually done in reverse also? Because you have [INAUDIBLE] underneath [INAUDIBLE].
SARAH BRAYER: Yeah. It's not usually done in reverse. Although sometimes I do make images that use both sides. [AUDIO OUT] You're kind of working in reverse. But it's built up from the screen. Each layer goes one on top of the other. So you're building it up. And you can see [AUDIO OUT] making it. Thank you. Yeah?
AUDIENCE: Once the paper's dry, can you pour goo washi on it [INAUDIBLE]?
SARAH BRAYER: You can pour washi on to dry washi. But the problem is it will buckle. So you have to work out some sort of a restraining system. You can re-dampen sometimes if it's still on the screen. Or you can adhere it. And then mist the whole thing with a mister and stretch it out and then try to dry it flat. It's better if you can do it all at once. Yeah. Yes?
AUDIENCE: Sarah, [INAUDIBLE] interest [INAUDIBLE] possibly where that came from. I mean, it's just-- is there inspiration?
SARAH BRAYER: Yeah. I noticed that when I started my painting outdoors when I was first in Japan, I was always attracted to low-level lighting situations. And one of the things I did early on was go out and paint under moonlight. And I guess I was attracted to the kind of mysterious quality.
Moonlight is reflected light. And so it's not like sunlight. And it's very cool. And you can gaze at the moon much more easily than you can gaze at the sun. So I just became entranced, really, with the feeling. I guess it was more of an emotive response. Yeah. Yes? Yes?
AUDIENCE: What kind of paper [INAUDIBLE]?
SARAH BRAYER: Right. So the very vibrant colors are used-- I use dye. It's a fiber reactive dye. And I make big vats. It has to be done with hot water and a fixative. And for some of the more pale colors I'm able to use liquid pigments that have a special binder that will enable them to stick with the washi.
And I've tried for many years to work with indigo, because it's such a beautiful color. And some of my works which have indigo in them are done by applying a surface application, brushing on indigo. But if you actually tried to vat dye the paper fibers in an indigo bath, you can really only get a light blue even after eight or 10 dippings.
So I had to give up on that-- it's a great idea. But with the washi, it doesn't really work. Indigo fabric is is dipped many, many times. And there are some paper people that dip paper that way. So you can do that. But it's different from what I'm doing. Yes? Yes?
AUDIENCE: I'm intrigued by some of the what looks like scratches or videographs or whatever [INAUDIBLE] otherwise flat color that you get. How do you put that in there? What's-- how much intentionality is there to the images?
SARAH BRAYER: Most of the more linear marks are actual etchings. They're done on copper plates, aquatints that have a strong graphic element. And, yeah, they do have intent. One of the things I didn't really talk about was that before I start the pouring, I spend a lot of time choreographing in my mind where things are going to go and composing.
Because once you're doing the actual pouring, it's very easy to get distracted and go off going a different direction-- which is OK sometimes. But if you have a real composition that you're working for, and especially when the panels are going to match, you really have to have a pretty clear idea of at least where things are going to stop and start so that you get a flow.
I like to add things to the paper. So sometimes I will do paintings that have very strong brush strokes and then put them in or prints-- aquatint prints. Aquatint is a tonal form of etching. And I'm able-- it's really, for me, the medium that I'm the most comfortable with in the printmaking realm. You can do pretty much anything in terms of a mark.
So-- and I'm able to print on very thin paper. So often I will print a thin aquatint like in that big moon piece crescent. Those were aquatints about this big. And I just repeated the pattern.
AUDIENCE: Do you make your own paper for the aquatint prints?
SARAH BRAYER: Not usually. It depends. Nothing is very consistent with me as I'm always changing the rules. But I also source paper. And when I find-- it's actually very hard to print on thin papers. You have problems with sticking and consistency and all. So I have found some very good commercial papers that other paper makers make. Yeah.
AUDIENCE: I don't know. I'm sure I'm mistaken. But it looked to me in one of the [INAUDIBLE] that there was a piece of glass on top of the [INAUDIBLE].
SARAH BRAYER: Oh. Was that the photo when I was adhering the moon?
AUDIENCE: It was yellow. [INAUDIBLE] piece of glass over it, and I thought to weigh it down.
SARAH BRAYER: I'm not sure what you're referring to. But When I was working on adhering the moons in that very large edition, I did have a sheet of mylar over the print while I was using the hitting brush to protect the paper so that it wouldn't grab and mess up the fibers. But, no, I don't usually use glass with the works.
OK. Well, thank you very much.
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As part of the Fall 2018 Johnson Museum opening reception, artist Sarah Brayer, whose Oceanic Moon was on view as part of the exhibition 'Moon,' gave the Stoikov Lecture on Asian Art on Sept. 6. This annual lecture on Asian art is funded by a generous gift from Judith Stoikov '63.