Native American warriors and the samurai of Japan have a lot in common, according to Japanese artist Hyakkimaru. Both groups are noted for their courageous attitudes and fighting skills, as well as their 19th-century marginalization by a more powerful majority.
"I have a group of works based on the rise of the Samurai era, a chaotic period in Japan approximately 1,000 years ago, in which people tried to protect their lands from invaders," the artist's translator communicates via e-mail. "I am attracted by the similar protective action that the Native Americans took toward the invaders."
Hyakkimaru — a pseudonym from a southern Japanese term for "Little Monster" — translates this inspiration into kirie (pronounced KEER-e-eh), or cut paper art. With scissors and small craft knives, he can extract a life-sized figure made only of black paper: a samurai with a poised, energetic swagger, a Native American proud and rough around the edges. These are no paper dolls.
"What you're seeing in his work is an intersection of this traditional cut paper art with imagery that feels very much of our times, that feels very much drawn from anime and manga," says Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center museum director Blake Milteer. He adds, "They feel vigorous to me. The figures feel in motion, and that contrasts, in the most beautiful way, with the absolute virtuosity that it takes to make these pieces."
Hyakkimaru, whose kirie images have graced the covers of more than 700 books in a 30-year career, can move to more intricate places, too. In one piece, he cut a shockingly detailed, wispy rope knot, fringed and fraying, with an exacting verisimilitude.
He visits as part of the 50th anniversary of the sister-city kinship between Colorado Springs and Fujiyoshida, Japan. (According to his Facebook page, Hyakkimaru lives about three hours from there, in Tsurugashima-shi.) Beyond the kirie now hanging at the FAC, he'll give classes and demonstrations at Bemis School of Art and the Colorado Springs Diversity Forum's Mountain Festival. Watching him work has been described by audience members as "spectacular," since the artist considers it a performance.
When asked what most people don't know about kirie, Hyakkimaru says it's the possibilities. He adds, "I think there are lots of people doing kirie consciously or subconsciously. To make pictures with a knife or scissors is simply fun."