Finding the Center

Works by Echiko Ohira
If you’re in Los Angeles later this month, stop by Craft Contemporary on Wilshire Boulevard to view Finding the Center: Works by Echiko Ohira, the first solo museum exhibition of the Los Angeles-based artist Echiko Ohira. The sxhibition will be on view from September 29, 2019 to January 5, 2020. The  exhibition examines her prolific artistic production over almost three decades, centered on the exploration of paper as a medium.
At the core of Echiko Ohira’s practice is paper. Intimately tied to the artist’s childhood memories growing up in Japan, paper both represents and embodies a medium that is accessible, flexible, and malleable; because of these unique qualities, paper provides an infinite array of possibilities for the artist, at once minimal and maximal. “Though manifested in different ways, the unifying theme behind the work remains the same; Echiko Ohira works to transform—and by extension, reveal the unaltering nature ofpaper. By working with such an everyday material, Ohira seeks to find the poetry in the mundane,” said Exhibitions Curator Holly Jerger.
The starting point of Ohira’s practice is rooted in her daily experiments with paper, small-scale objects, and found materials that act as documents of both her artistic and personal reflections. Over the course of her career, the artist has filled dozens of sketchbooks as if they were diaries, some of which will be exhibited for the first time. She initially began with the idea of paper as a placeholder for the self and a displacement for pain. Early works such as Untitled (Torso), 1995 and Black Torso, 2000 speak to this approach, emanating a strong corporeal presence with their vertical lines reminiscent of the undulations of vertebrae or the tapering of a spine. Since then, Ohira’s practice has gradually unfolded to encompass broader meanings of paper, incorporating everyday materials such as pencil, thread, and nails. Her production has also expanded, shifting from flat works to sculptures, always with the same relentless curiosity towards paper—whether in the guise of cardboard, blueprint drawings, notebook pages, newsprint, receipts, or paper bags. Indicative of her more recent practice is Untitled - paper and thread, 2016-2017, made from tea-stained blueprint paper, thread, cardboard, and glue. The piece is comprised of delicately folded bits of blueprint paper, wrapped together with almostinvisible lines of white thread, built up in concentric rings to create a massive, unwieldy, yet balanced, sculpture: the result is paper transformed into something beyond itself.
Ohira’s heavily worked artworks are constructed through a process of gluing, tearing, staining, painting, and layering. “Through sheer repetition, the artist creates a structure that can expand either infinitely outward or inwards, evoking both microcosms and macrocosms. The repetitive nature of her works suggests cyclical themes, prompting the viewer to imagine ideas such as lost/found, creation/destruction, or birth/death,” describes Jerger. Indeed, these themes resonate strongly with Ohira’s practice, as they present two opposite ends of the spectrum which, in reality, are the same—separated only by the act of transformation.
Born in Tokyo, Japan in 1949, Echiko Ohira studied Graphic Design at Musashino Art University in Japan before moving to Mexico with her husband, Minoru Ohira, and settling in Los Angeles in 1982. Since then, she has developed a rigorous practice around the investigation of paper as material, creating drawings, collages, and sculptures. Ohira has shown extensively in the greater Los Angeles area, including at the Offramp Gallery in Pasadena, the Armory Center for the Arts, and the Art Center College of Design. Craft Contemporary has previously shown her work in the group exhibition, Paperworks, curated by Howard Fox in 2015. Her works appear in collections in both the U.S. and Japan.
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