Kanako Abe

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From Naturally Dyed Paper, Kanako Abe Cuts Exquisite Works Connecting Nature and the Human Touch

April 13, 2023

Grace Ebert

On a black backdrop, a photo of a gold paper cutting of a hand with a start at the center of the palm surrounded by delicate botanical filigree

All images © Kanako Abe

After several years of working primarily with white paper, Kanako Abe has shifted to color. The Seattle-based artist is known for her exquisite Kirie works—a traditional Japanese art form that translates to cut picture—and she’s recently begun to incorporate rich blue and gold sheets tinted with rust, indigo, and various materials foraged from forests. “When I dye the paper, I don’t know how the hue, color, or texture would turn out, but I just go with the flow, trust the process, and embrace the imperfection,” she shares.

This sentiment contrasts the impeccable precision of her compositions, which often feature silhouettes, hands, animals, or household objects encircled by delicate botanical filigree. The idea to pair organic dyes with meticulous cuts was born in the early days of the pandemic, when “in such state of the world, the attitude of trying to have control over something felt very stressful, so I started feeling out of alignment with my art making method,” Abe says. “This new method, which I’m still experimenting and exploring, allows me to meditate on a thought that the world around us is changeable.” The resulting works are as intricate as her earlier pieces, although they place greater emphasis on the limits and possibilities of human touch.

Head to Instagram for more of Abe’s papercuts and to peek into her process.


A photo on a white backdrop of a blue paper cut of a shilhouette with flowers and plants growing from the top of the head

Two photos on white backdrops, one of a gold paper cut of a hand holding flowers surrounded by blooms, and the other a detail of that same work

A photo on a black backdrop of a gold paper cut of scissors encircled by flowers

Two photos of blue paper cuts on white backdrops, one of a pot with a female figure and flowers growing from the opening, another of two hands clasped around a bouquet of flowers

A photo of a gold paper cut on a white backdrop of a deer encircled by flowers

A photo of a gold paper cut on a black backdrop of a butterfly landing on a hand with a backdrop of mesh





Moonlit Forests, Fish, and Branches Populate Kirie Silhouettes Cut from a Single Sheet of Paper

April 20, 2021

Grace Ebert

All images © Kanako Abe, shared with permission

From a single sheet of white paper, Kanako Abe (previously) carves exquisite silhouettes of children and young adults who are awash in seas of fish or occupied by quiet campouts. She utilizes the traditional Japanese art form called Kirie—which translates to cut picture—a technique that Abe begins with a sketch before slicing the delicate material with a variety of knives. “I don’t have a chance to change the design once I start cutting, so I find it challenging,” the Seattle-based artist says. “I have to think of the right patterns, controlling negative space, and make sure all the lines are connected so the art won’t fall apart once it’s finished.” A single piece can take anywhere from six to 60 hours to complete.

Abe shifted to full-time in 2020 and now balances her practice between commissions and ongoing personal projects, a few of which she’ll be sharing soon on Instagram. No matter the context, each artwork reflects a broader connection to nature and its ability to provide an escape from the complications and heartbreak of the current moment. “I find the process of art-making is a way for me to meditate on everyday thoughts and emotions, and it’s much easier for me to express complex feelings or emotions visually than verbally,” she tells Colossal. “The cycle of nature teaches us about the power of letting go or accept things as they are and that there’s a silver lining in everything.”

If you’re in San Francisco, you can see Abe’s intricate portraits at her September solo show at Rare Device. She’ll also be included in a group exhibition at Today’s Gallery in Ehime, Japan, which opens in December.





Flowers, Animals, and Children Intertwine in Stylized Paper Cut Artworks by Kanako Abe

April 2, 2018

Laura Staugaitis

San Francisco-based paper artist Kanako Abe creates elaborate, stylized portraits of animals and children using Ise-katagami, the traditional Japanese paper stencil technique for patterning kimono fabric. Abe learned Ise-katagami in 2012 and her creative interpretation treats paper as the finished product rather than simply a material in the process of image-making. The artist’s silhouettes of youth are also reminiscent of the Western tradition of creating silhouette portraits of a child’s profile. Abe fills these youthful outlines with plant tendrils, blossoming flowers, and moonlit forest scenes.

As seen in the photos below, many of Abe’s works are small, not much larger than the artist’s hand. However, she does occasionally venture into larger territory, as with her life-size wolf and bear paper cuts. Abe most recently exhibited her work in a solo show at the Little Lodge in San Francisco. You can find more of the artist’s work on Instagram.