The Chūō Rapid Rail Line (中央 線 快速 Chūō-sen Kaisoku), spanning nearly 400 km between Tokyo and Nagoya, serves commuters to and from Tokyo Station. It was a combination of this busy Tokyo central line, and the artist’s name at birth, that spawned the pseudonym JR CHUO. Born in 2002 in the UK, CHUO currently lives just outside of London, where he creates all of his intricate pieces. Alongside his paper cutting, CHUO is currently studying for his Asian and Middle Eastern Studies degree at the University of Cambridge.
Despite his young age, CHUO can be described as a master of paper cutting and spray painting due to the technical detail and aesthetic maturity of his works, which have recently been displayed in London at The Other Art Fair, where his largest piece was selected by Saatchi Art as one of their ‘Curator’s Picks’. CHUO’s paper cut artworks will land at the Tokyo International Art Fair 2021 in October and will be exhibited in Milan during the upcoming Milan Fashion and Design Weeks.
After seeing a paper cut ‘ise katagami’ artwork in a ‘ryōkan’ (traditional inn) in Kyōto during a trip in 2015, JR CHUO approached the traditional Japanese art form of ‘kirie’, or ‘paper cutting’ for the first time. Struck by the intricacy of the ‘ise katagami’ artwork, which was traditionally used to create stencils for hand-printed motifs that adorn the fabrics of kimonos, CHUO decided to make it the fulcrum of his creative process and using it as a contemporary key of this ancient practice and the related Buddhist ideal of wabi-sabi (beauty in imperfection).
The artist creates intricate compositions of shapes that expand in a circular formation starting from a centre-matrix, engraving the paper with a scalpel to create relational graphic systems in which the alternation of pattern and space suggests the breadth of a dilated and interconnected organism on the one hand, but also the graphic representation of a sound that reverberates in a digital space, or a map of a metropolitan transport system in a hyper-technological capital. As with intricate coral in nature or the complexity of the world’s busiest subway map, each segment is defined by its strategic location in relation to the others.
The convergence of these apparently contrasting suggestions is emphasized by the use of spray paint to produce fluorescent and vivid colours, combined with Perspex that filter the ambient light to create a striking background glow. Each paper cut design is unique and the thousands of possible combinations inherent in the DNA of these shapes suggest the idea of a mysterious pulsating universe that expands seamlessly into the void.
JR CHUO considers the way in which natural light interacts with his work fundamental to his practise and he builds his pieces around this concept, explaining that the ideal light to look at them is that of dawn, which softly integrates the colours of the materials by casting light shadows and revealing subtleties that may be invisible in other parts of the day. Transparency is another important component of CHUO’s works, whose sensual nature of the surfaces coexist with the equally pronounced, rational and self-determined structures.
JR CHUO’s poetic contrasting suggestions converge and merge into abstract imaginary, creating further and endless subplots to the central storyline or Central line (‘Chūō’ in Japanese).
The artist’s works seem to incorporate the disturbing self-replication of digital data flows or DNA string, reinforcing the precision of these forms. These strong structural elements also share affinities with the settlements of insects or with the limestone that makes up coral reefs, commonly perceived as single organisms, but made up of thousands of identical individuals measuring only a few millimetres.
The artist describes the labour-intensive creation of his works, the smallest of which take several weeks to complete, as a meditative and spiritual process in which the chaotic tensions of contemporaneity are sublimated through the distillation of a tragic beauty that brings them closer to an organic and natural environment.
JR CHUO explores the scars that the most invasive social and environmental phenomena of our time leave in our visual landscape. For example, the vibrant colours of the ‘Mini CHUO Reef Collection’ derive from the shades that dying corals take on before bleaching due to the increase in temperature and acidity of the marine waters, while the palette of the ‘Fluoro Tokyo Collection’ originates from the striking block colours present in metropolitan maps that overshadow the inequalities of globalized society.
However, the artist communicates a message of trust in the possibilities of redemption of humanity, which will soon be forced to choose between a more equitable orientation of world politics and self-destruction. And it is precisely this deep emotional and ethical sharing of JR CHUO in the themes of our present that makes his projects so expressive and exciting.
Despite being the result of a precise and calculated protocol of actions, his execution still confers a considerable margin of unpredictability.mFurthermore, the spontaneous intuition manifested by his work appears extraordinarily in line, for the young age of the artist, with the most recent and visionary orientations of contemporary urban design which, as demonstrated by the Architecture Biennale still underway in Venice, identify the most convincing hypothesis of ecological, social and environmental sustainability.
JR CHUO’s photo portrait, ph courtesy of the Artist
JR CHUO, ‘Fluoro Purple Reef’, 2020, 120 x 120 cm. Hand-cut paper, spray paint, canvas, ph courtesy of the Artist
JR CHUO, ‘Mini CHUO Reef 2’, 2021, 21.3 x 21.3 cm. Hand-cut paper, spray paint, canvas, ph courtesy of the Artist
JR CHUO, ‘Shinjuku’, 2018-2020, 180 cm diameter. Hand-cut paper, ph courtesy of the Artist
Actor and performer, he loves visual arts in all their manifestations.