Lifestyle | Kateigaho International Japan Edition

Artistry unfolds: Byōbu are collaborative, composite works of art

Byōbu are composite works of art,” says Yoshihiro Takishita.

“They require not only the skills of a painter, but of a whole range of artisans: papermakers to produce the washi paper that covers the panels, lacquer painters and gold decorators, joiners who build the lattices of the frame and mounters who cover them, sericulturists in the case of silk byōbu, and woodblock artists, carvers and printers for byōbu that feature woodblock prints.”

Birds of a feather: This frolicking chicken is one panel from what was originally a single pair of folding screens. Today, for varying reasons, many byōbu folding screns have been split up; the question is how to make the best of this. The pictures on the individual panels of many screens are complete compositions in themselves, so one option is to display them as separate paintings. Something Takishita does himself, and also recommends to many clients, is to frame such panels, which easily lend themselves to rotation. A unique virtue of byōbu as interior decoration is that they permit the owner the luxury of switching scenes depending on the season — or one's mood on any given day.
Birds of a feather: This frolicking chicken is one panel from what was originally a single pair of folding screens. Today, for varying reasons, many byōbu folding screns have been split up; the question is how to make the best of this. The pictures on the individual panels of many screens are complete compositions in themselves, so one option is to display them as separate paintings. Something Takishita does himself, and also recommends to many clients, is to frame such panels, which easily lend themselves to rotation. A unique virtue of byōbu as interior decoration is that they permit the owner the luxury of switching scenes depending on the season — or one’s mood on any given day.

Unfortunately, he notes, these days it is not easy to assemble a team of people with such skills.

Making an impact: The chickens in the screen painting stand out more vividly when illuminated by candles or the sun than they do in artificial light.
Making an impact: The chickens in the screen painting stand out more vividly when illuminated by candles or the sun than they do in artificial light.

In the heyday of traditional byōbu, paper was a precious commodity, like glass. The screen shown here on the right was discovered in tattered condition inside a storehouse when Takishita dismantled a house for relocation. The lettering visible through the gaps indicates that the screen was made by recycling account statements and other papers instead of burning them. The surface on which the paintings appear was pasted over three base layers of paper. Folding screens were often moved about, so this layered structure served to make them sturdy enough to withstand such wear and tear.

A natural glow: Until the Edo Period (1603-1868) the only way to view byōbu was in natural light or candlelight.
A natural glow: Until the Edo Period (1603-1868) the only way to view byōbu was in natural light or candlelight.

This is the final installment in a four-part series on architect Yoshihiro Takishita’s antique byōbu collection.