Oil and gilding on byōbu (folding screen). 72″ x 144″ Collection of Gail and John Enns.
This was the first of my more or less authentic Japanese folding screens Byobu). In 1980 there were no books or videos that I could find on this process. My dear friend Marty Amt (Special Assistant to The Director @ The Smithsonian Institute’s Freer Gallery) had made a documentary film of the restoration of a Byōbu. Marty was kind enough to watch the film with me as I took notes whenever Marty clarified a process. A week later I built 6 wooden cores (shoji like panels) with the traditional woodworking methods substituting cypress for sugi (Japanese cedar). They were then covered in layers of mulberry paper and hinged with the Japanese paper hinge technique. At this point I broke with tradition and primed the screen with PVA and acrylic gesso so that I could paint with oil paint and gold leaf.
I do not consider the painting to be within the Japanese tradition. While the image and the screen process borrow heavily from Japan it does so with my identity in mind. The painting technique, composition and philosophy are much indebted to western traditions and modernism. In my mind the Italian Rennaisance is also very much present here. I have spent years wandering the Italian wing of the National Gallery of Art — sometimes 2 or 3 times in a week. That said, my painting techniques (or lack thereof) lean more on DeKooning than anyone from the distant past.