comscore 79-year-old artist snips images from flyers and catalogs to buzz-worthy artwork
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79-year-old artist snips images from flyers and catalogs to buzz-worthy artwork

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                                Eiko Shima happily works on a large collage May 6 in her Setagaya ward home in Tokyo.


    Eiko Shima happily works on a large collage May 6 in her Setagaya ward home in Tokyo.

TOKYO >> Cutting images out of newspaper flyers and mail-order catalogs, and pasting the pieces one by one on a canvas — this is how collage artist Eiko Shima evokes a scene. And thanks to the unique, charming style of her work, Shima, 79, has attracted public attention.

The former oil painter, a resident of Setagaya ward in Tokyo, uses paper as her sole artistic medium.

“Paper is paint for me now,” she said.

Her work became a hit last October when she held a solo exhibit at a small community gallery in Setagaya.

Shima showed three large collages more than 5 feet wide and 4 feet tall, along with about 300 bags she crafted from newspaper. She worked on her art daily during the pandemic.

The works caught the attention of Kyoichi Tsuzuki, a photographer, writer and editor who organized a series of exhibits in Shibuya titled “Museum of Mom’s Art.”

One of Shima’s collages portrays a modern metropolis, comprising, upon closer inspection, tiny snipped images of condominiums, furniture, jewelry and other items.

The piece was featured on television and in magazines and created a buzz online, with comments calling the work “tremendous” and “astonishing.”

“I became aware of my hidden strength,” said Shima, happy and a little surprised.

Shima has loved painting since she was a child, but since her family could not afford the pricey paints, she used paper, inexpensive and easily accessible.

“I thought to myself that paper is my paint. I made paper cutouts, like those works by (famous 20th- century Japanese paper artist) Kiyoshi Yamashita and (Henri) Matisse,” she said.

After high school, she worked in Tokyo as a keypunch operator. She painted in oil under the instruction of a teacher at the company’s art club, and won a prize at a public art exhibition.

But she was not happy.

“It was unbearable to see my teacher retouch my work before displaying it at the exhibition,” she said.

She returned to collage, which she could create without supervision.

After she married, Shima’s art was put on hold as she raised children, ran her household and worked. In her mid-50s, she resumed her creative pursuits.

She initially produced small works but moved on to 5-foot canvases in 2002. She finds the larger scale most interesting.

Shima’s morning routine begins with searching her daily newspaper for advertising inserts. Then she snips what she thinks is usable.

“I do this because paper is there, like climbers say they climb a mountain ‘because it is there,’” she said. “I like the sensation of cutting paper.”

Shima currently is working on a large collage for a solo exhibition slated for October at a community gallery. Her motif is a bright sun, which she said expresses her gratitude for a vitality that her sudden popularity has provided her.

Preparation for her design starts with simple diagonal lines and large circles drawn in pencil to roughly map out where she will arrange the pieces of snipped paper. Then she begins pasting — images of tomatoes, strawberries and orange slices to create sunlight, while she achieves shading and depth through pictures of grapes and blueberries.

Shima said the fun is in conceptualizing which images to combine.

One issue, however, slows her down: waiting. Shima isn’t always able to quickly access all the materials she needs for her artwork. Because of the wait time, each work for her previous exhibit took three months to complete.

But she isn’t worried.

“I’m the type of person who can work well under pressure,” she said.

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