The Japanese Art of Washi


As London Craft Weeks approaches, we’re delighted to play host to the spellbinding work of acclaimed Japanese artist, Sakuho Ito. Ito has created her own original craft called Sabi Washi, or rust paper. She starts with traditional hand-crafted Japanese washi – the same material used to create the amorphous light sculptures of Isamu Noguchi, for example. She then shapes it to her satisfaction – whether that’s a flat canvas or a voluminous vessel – and treats it with an alchemical mixture of minerals. Ito uses copper and iron, for instance, to build texture and depth, as well as pigmentation. Her work is deeply elemental, radiating a sense of time’s passage as those minerals undergo a natural process of oxidisation.



There’s a deep sense of intentionality in Ito’s work, with every element carrying a ceremonious sort of meaning. To create her washi, she sources kozo, or mulberry, grown in her native Iwami region of Shimane prefecture. She complements this by collecting metal and sand from the Shimane seashore. Ito not only draws materials from the region, but also inspiration. She’s moved by the natural majesty of the environment in which she grew up. She looks to its mountains and forests, finding beauty in their ever-changing nature. She recalls watching as leaves fell from the trees, returning to the soil below and slowly merging back into earth.



Through her work, Ito aims to capture the tranquillity inherent in nature’s cyclical rhythm. There’s a sense of peace which comes with accepting the inevitability of transfiguration, whereby all things change in form yet remain eternally a part of our world. In her words: “Sabi Washi displays the undeniable passage of time, highlighting the beauty of ageing and rusting. The rusting process creates colour and texture like human ageing leaves traces of time on the skin. There is a heavy, serene feeling that rusting objects produce.”



Ito’s work is an expression of mitate, meaning ‘looks like something else’. She transmutes paper into what appears to be metal. In actuality, the product is a coalescence of the two materials, neither entirely one nor the other. We find the effect is especially compelling when her creations are placed amidst our metal furniture designs. We take great pleasure in showcasing the inherent beauty of metal, working with polished stainless steel or bronze, for example. Sometimes, however, our specialist finishing team will hand-paint certain pieces to overlay them with other metallic effects. Our ‘Florentine Gold’ finish, for example, uses powdered gold alongside other metals to evoke an antiqued glow. In other cases, we will patinate certain metals using solutions that hasten the process of oxidisation, mirroring the effects that time and the elements impart. We find certain threads of commonality between our furniture and Ito’s art, as well as a refreshing array of differences which create a dynamic give-and-take between the two.



We’re very much looking forward to opening the doors to our exhibition of Sakuho Ito’s work, in collaboration with Yuzemi gallery. We couldn’t imagine a better way to celebrate our own conception of craft as it relates to the beauty of metal. We hope you’ll join us this London Craft Week to encounter the unique beauty of Ito’s work for yourself.



The exhibition will run from Monday the 13th of May, through Saturday the 18th of May. You can find it at our London showroom, located at 28 Pimlico Road, London SW1W 8LJ. Our doors are open from 10am to 6pm Monday through Friday, and 10am to 5pm on Saturday.

To delve deeper into Sakuho Ito’s work, follow her on Instagram. You can also find out more about Yuzemi gallery on their Instagram.




Text by Annabel Colterjohn