From a distance, Japanese artist KROUD’s works appear to be ink paintings done with a sumi-e brush. But upon closer inspection, you’ll see that the images are instead layered sheets of black and white paper, painstakingly created by using nothing more than a cutter knife.
KROUD (Chiaki Hirano) specializes in kirie, the Japanese art of paper cutting. [Kirie comes from the Japanese words kiri (切り), meaning “to cut,” and e (絵), “picture.”] The 29-year-old Kanagawa, Japan, native is currently in the midst of his first solo exhibition in New York, “Climbing boots,” at Jadite Galleries in Midtown West.
The craft of kirie was traditionally used in Japan for religious purposes, as Shinto priests created spiritual symbols they dedicated to the gods. While the first two framed pictures that you’ll see when you step into Jadite Galleries is that of Bishamonten, the god of warriors and one of Japan’s Seven Gods of Fortune, and a formidable dragon, you’ll find that the majority of KROUD’s exhibition is based on contemporary subject matter. Sharing wall spaces with those icons of the ancient Far East are pop culture icons Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder, and Japanese singer Namie Amuro.
Each work of art is incredibly crafted, which is the result of many hours of tedious cutting. KROUD says it takes roughly 40 hours – eight hours a day for five days – to complete one picture. He first draws a sketch of his subject on a piece of paper and then cuts the outline and the features, using several layers of black and white paper until he achieves the look he imagined. For his street scenes such as the works “Times Square,” “Alley Street,” and “NY,” KROUD takes digital photographs which uses as a guide.
No detail is overlooked. In “Wind of Instant,” which depicts a jockey on a horse, KROUD punctured the paper to represent the dust flying from the track. Words on signs are precisely cut, as are the feathers on the peacock’s tail and the sweat from Mike Tyson’s opponent as the boxer lands his punch.
The artwork isn’t all black and white. KROUD also colors white paper with markers, giving the feeling of stained glass, as in the four pictures of cats on display. Look closely at the cats, and you’ll see the images of people, flowers, and birds intricately cut into their silhouettes.
It’s impressive that someone as young as KROUD has the patience to practice something as demanding as kirie. Some of Japan’s traditional arts are becoming endangered because younger generations don’t want to devote the necessary time to them. Yet KROUD isn’t simply preserving kirie; he’s expanding the parameters of the traditional art form to create contemporary masterpieces.