Spirited monkeys, inquisitive rabbits, placid walruses, and other species come to life in Chie Hitotsuyama's studio. Working with glue and twisted rolls of newspaper, the Tokyo-based artist crafts three-dimensional portraits of animals that are full of personality. "I'm breathing new life into old newspapers that no longer serve their role as an information medium," she says.
Hitotsuyama has been working on this zoological series since 2011. The idea for the first sculpture, of a rhinoceros, came to her after seeing a rhino getting attacked by poachers during a trip through Africa in 2007. After that, it took four years for her to develop her signature technique. In the artist's words, she's "taken it slow."
Hitotsuyama's incredible care and patience is visible in each meticulous, awe-inspiring work. To maintain scientific accuracy, she carefully observes photographs and videos of the chosen animal, then creates a base for the sculpture. She picks the newspapers according to color, and twists them into thin rolls that are densely applied, one after the other. "By gluing paper rolls one by one, I can form beautiful contours and curves, and the shapes of the animals emerge," the artist tells us. "If I'm creating a big animal, like a dugong or walrus, it takes approximately three months to put down all of the strips of paper, and finish the whole process."
Spending all that time with the creatures has led to existential musings. "I admire the animals—how they are trying earnestly to survive in an unforgiving landscape. They remind us of precious things that we are forgetting these days. Creating the animals makes me think about what life means to me, and how I should live my life," says Hitotsuyama.
After exhibitions in Japan, the artist made her debut in California this year, first at Jai & Jai Gallery in Los Angeles, and currently at MOAH:CEDAR in Lancaster, where she is completing a residency. During her time there, she has also been preparing a new congress of chimpanzees, which will be shown in Miami during Art Basel. Her research for this new herd has focused on the behaviors of the species, and its relationship to humans.
"I read that the number of chimpanzees is declining because of deforestation and the destruction of their natural habitats, as well as poaching, so they can serve as food or pets," she mentions. "Chimpanzees are intelligent but also violent. They can destroy their territories or kill their own babies. They live in a herd like us. I'm hoping I can express their various personalities."