Kazumi Wilds at Sulfur Studios
When you think of 400-year-old art forms and 1,300-year-old mythologies, there is a calm, a stillness, a respectful reverence. We behave like in a library or a game of golf, as if there is no fun to be had or joy to be indulged.
But here’s the thing, we can have as much fun with ancient art forms as a toddler with finger painting, and Japanese book illustrator, writer, and artist’s book artist. Kazumi Wild Forests prove.
“I haven’t given it much thought. I’m just having fun,” she said if people felt anything special when they engaged in her art.
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But don’t confuse this joy with carelessness. While Wilds exhibits an open and enthusiastic attitude, she is nothing if not meticulous about her craft. “I am very ambitious; some say too ambitious. She laughs, a sound similar to colorful wind chimes.
“Not always, but as much as possible, I want to do with my hands.”
From illustrating book art, typing text, binding pages, and even producing his own paper, Wilds enjoys being involved in every step of the book-making process.
After graduating with a degree in Japanese painting from Joshibi College of Art and Design, she pursued her passion for book design by earning an MFA in Book Art from the University of Iowa. This attention to intricate detail was able to fully manifest in the MFA’s final project, “Kojiki: The Birth of Japan: The Illustrated Japanese Creation Myth,” based on the 1,300-year-old myth.
Handmade editions of the artist’s book are now displayed at the Bainbridge Museum of Art in Washington and housed in the special collections of eleven universities in the United States. Since then, Wilds has published a dozen picture books in the United States, Japan and Singapore.
Since July 6, locals have had the chance to witness the process in person by stopping by Sulfur Studios where Wilds is the latest guest at their ON::View Artist Residency.
If you didn’t stop by open studios to see the magic happen, the final reception on Friday from 5-9pm in conjunction with First Fridays at Starland will celebrate the completion of the exclusive, moss-inspired artist book spanish suspended above the streets and parks of Savannah.
Although she spends most of her time in Tokyo, Wilds has always been fascinated by the flowering plant. She remembers when she and her ex-husband visited her mother in South Carolina and the trips they took to Savannah. She also visited her eldest son a few times while he was attending Savannah College of Art and Design.
She smiled expressing her fascination with the plant, her lips carving well-worn lines into her cheeks, full and soft as wet clay. “In Japan, we have air plants like that, but they’re in flower shops, not in the wild,” she says. “It’s always amazing how it grows like that high in the trees.”
Kazumi Wilds’ First Works with Spanish Moss
Wilds thinks his residency was the perfect opportunity to use Spanish moss as a motif in his project. While researching tropical greenery before her arrival, it wasn’t until she was working in the studio that she found an inspiring new thread to weave into her concept.
His original plan was to create an artist’s book using a combination of monoblock woodblock techniques, printed with Japanese baren, inspired by sketches of Spanish moss from the parks of Savannah. After a conversation with a local artist working in the nearby studio, she was encouraged to check out the folklore surrounding the moss.
As a former children’s book illustrator, her interest was piqued by the potential to tell a deeper story.
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A legend recounts the efforts of Spanish pirate captain Gorez Goz to capture and marry the 15-year-old daughter of the chief of the indigenous Cusabo tribe. When the chief refused to give up his daughter, Goz threatened to kill him. To save her father’s life, the girl issued a challenge: if Goz could catch him, she would be his wife. And so the hunt began.
While Goz was confident in his tracking skills, the girl was smart and climbed a tree, tricking him into following her. He started to climb, thinking he had finally cornered her, but his long beard soon got caught in the branches of the tree. According to legend, even after Goz died in this tree, his beard never stopped growing, turning gray and turning into the moss we have today.
Now, Wilds plans to include images of the maiden and the Spanish pirate layered together to create a more abstract image of the oak tree.
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It is this insatiable wonder that Wilds credits to his experience teaching Book Art and other courses at Temple University, Japan Campus. “[My students] are foreigners in Japan, and they are so interested and curious about Japanese culture, just like I am curious and interested about the southern nature of Spanish moss,” she explains.
“And you know that’s the kind of curiosity and interest that goes into their creativity. It’s the same, regardless of my age, their youth.
And that’s what allows 400-year-old painting techniques and toddler finger painting to be on the same playing field: a dedication to curiosity and joy.