Paper Journeys with Chisato Tamabayashi

© Chisato Tamabayashi


Chisato is originally from Japan, but based in London. She studied BA Graphic Design at London College of Printing and later gained an MA Communication Art and Design at Royal College of Art. He paper work and books have been exhibited in UK, Sweden, Denmark, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Holland and Japan. She has done commission work for Tate Modern, V&A, Royal London Hospital, Nightingale Project.


Hi Chisato, your art takes on mainly 3D paperwork, how did you end up working in this way?

Maybe it’s coming out unconsciously from playing with origami when I was a child?

I first came across your work at the London Art Book Fair in Whitechapel Gallery, would you consider yourself primarily a bookmaker?

Yes, I normally start with a book format or narrative, so I would say I’m a book artist.

Could you expand on the book making process and what it is that draws you to this format? What opportunities does it provide over more traditional 2D paper formats?

One reason I enjoy working with book format is because it allows the reader to approach the work at their own pace. I like it how people have their own particular ways of handling a book – from the lightest, most careful touching to roughly flipping through the pages. Plus, the fact that you have to turn the pages means that books always contain an element of surprise, which is one advantage over 2D formats.

But I enjoy taking the ideas that come out in my books and exploring them in other formats too.  For example, a piece I made recently developed out of Airborne, one of my books, which I translated into the form of a mobile. You could say the idea flew out of the book!

“I don’t use any words in my books; they’re purely visual, because language creates barriers.”

© Chisato Tamabayashi

Going through one of your books it takes you on a journey, how important is narrative to you?

I don’t use any words in my books; they’re purely visual, because language creates barriers. I believe that visual language is universal, so hopefully the narrative I’m suggesting in my work can communicate through the imagery alone or take people along on their own imaginative journeys.

So for me, narrative is important, but the narratives in my work are mine so I hope people can be moved by these to imagine their own narratives.

There is a real joy leafing through your work, what do you feel tactility brings to art?

I think tactility is very important and maybe that’s why I choose a book format. To enjoy an artist book, you have to touch the book, go through it at your own pace, feel the paper, listen to the noises (sometimes my pop-up pieces make noise!) and enjoy the images.

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You are based in London but from Japan, how do these two very different cultures feed into your work?

I think because I’m in London, I appreciate Japanese culture, traditional art & craft more, because it’s distant. It’s a good balance for me.

Nature and the seasons is a recurring theme, what draws you to this?

Again, because I live in London, I appreciate nature because there seems to be a lot here, compared to other big cities.

Then you also work a lot with cityscapes and transport, very different no?

That’s what I see and live in! Calming nature, a busy city with traffic jams and packed tube trains!

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                   CLICK THROUGH for more images © Chisato Tamabayashi

Could you explain to me the process and creation of a book such as The Place of Rains?

The Place of Rains was a private commission piece. I received a short story called “The Place of Rains”, and used it as my inspiration. I wanted to create each illustration in colour and colourless versions, that’s why I created patterns for different objects, then cut these patterns. I use screen print for my prints, because I can be in control of the colours and I like the texture of the ink on the paper.

Some of your commissioned work is in hospitals, what do you feel art can bring to such an environment?

I really enjoyed them. I think it is very important to cheer people up, especially in the hospital. When I installed “Corridor”, some patients came out from their room, and sat there and enjoyed it. The best thing that happened was that they were smiling.

You do all sorts of incredible things with paper, is there anything paper can’t do?

I can’t think… Paper is a very versatile material, it looks fragile, but it can be very tough. There are paper dresses and even buildings made out of paper.

Nightingale Project commission at the South Kensington and Chelsea Mental Health Centre. © Chisato Tamabayashi