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A Visit to SAITO Noriko's Studio

As the train hurtled along the tracks from mid Tokyo to Kanagawa Prefecture where Saito Noriko lives and works, I watched a jumble of schools, offices, factories, and temple grounds pass by, with Mt Fuji in the distant background. This in turn made me think of the exuberance of Saito’s work, in which every new print reveals a profusion of images that have surfaced in her mind and that she painstakingly transforms into a print. The purpose of my visit was to spend time at Noriko’s workspace and, of course, it is always a pleasure to spend time with such a vivacious, bubbly person.

We met at the appointed countryside train station, fueled ourselves with coffee from the local 7-11, and walked to her atelier, accessible only by numerous flights of stone steps. Our route wound us by several old buildings in various states of disrepair. It was a real trip back in time to see so many wooden houses, although Noriko explained that many are abandoned, and she wonders what will happen to the area. After an arduous climb, we reached a house at the end of a bamboo thicket, and I was ushered into Noriko’s studio.

Noriko-san's inspiration is gleaned mostly from the natural world and from everyday experience: a recent edition featured momo, steamed dumplings that her Nepalese husband had prepared, along with an image of children playing, and the sun, which makes a frequent appearance in her work.

Let’s have a party (2022) -- sugar lift aquatint, ed. 5, 19 x 17.5 inches

I asked Noriko-san to pull a print while I filmed her process. The preparations for pulling an etching are lengthy: soaking the paper, then squeezing it dry, etching the various plates, inking the plates, wiping them, checking the registration so that the ink will go where it should. As Noriko turned the wheel of the press, I asked her how she had ever managed to get the printing press, which weighs hundreds of pounds, up all the steps. There is no possible way for cars to access where she works, and it turns out that five male friends somehow managed to get the press into the building. Having just made the ascent with only my handbag, I was at a loss to think how that could have been managed but I could totally imagine Noriko’s infectious smile and enthusiastic personality urging them onwards and upwards. And this press is only for her smaller editions! Larger works require a larger press which she uses at a nearby collaborative workshop.

Her surroundings are peaceful and quiet, and when she is not teaching, she says it is an ideal place to work on ideas for new editions. Currently she releases 10-12 new pieces each year and recently decided to try her hand at original paintings.

Poolside 1 (2019) -- acrylic on wooden panel, 36 x 31.5 inches

I left her studio feeling that I had just received a big dose of creative energy from an irrepressible fount. I am sure that this feeling will be with me for a long while.

I hope that you enjoy the video of Noriko-san explaining her printing technique below. For more of Noriko-san's whimsical works, please take a look at her artist's page, here.


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