Review of Shoji Paper Lighting by Isamu Noguchi


Born in 1904 in Los Angeles, Japanese American artist, designer and landscape architect Isamu Noguchi gained fame creating original designs infused with a deep respect for the natural world. Over a career that spanned six decades, Noguchi explored multiple artistic mediums, including furniture design, sculpture and theatrical set design. Collaborating with such luminaries as mid-century modernist Charles Eames and choreographer Martha Graham, he left an indelible mark on the world of art and design. Noguchi died in 1988.

In 1951, Noguchi began to explore creating light fixtures crafted in the shoji style. In traditional Japanese interior design, shoji describes room dividers made with translucent paper. Noguchi called his 100-piece series of shoji paper lighting fixtures Akari Light Sculptures. In Japanese, “akari” means light and brightness as well as the quality of being light. “The light of akari is like the light of the sun filtered through the paper of shoji,” Noguchi explained. “The harshness of electricity is thus transformed through the magic of paper back to the light of our origin: the sun.”

The Akari Light Sculpture line includes table lamps, floor lamps and pendant lighting fixtures. Using mulberry bark that was boiled and process to create the paper material, Noguchi’s shoji paper lighting illustrates a unique East-meets-West style. While preserving the restrained design aesthetic of class Japanese design, Noguchi infused the pieces with characteristic mid-century modern visuals. Some feature minimal decorations like painted teardrops, circles or stripes. The pieces are light, functional, witty and supremely stylish.

Many of the pieces in the Akari Light Sculpture line were exhibited in 1986 at the Venice Biennale in Italy when the artist’s work was chosen to represent the United States at the exhibition. Reviewers praised the work for its startling originality as well as for Noguchi’s thorough understanding of the modern design concept, “less is more.” Today, many of Noguchi’s designs can be viewed at the Noguchi Museum in New York. The master designer opened the museum in 1985, three years before his death.

Many of the furnishings and accessories that Noguchi designed, including lighting fixtures, are still in production and available for purchase. Although Noguchi designs exemplify the modern mid-century design style, there is a timeless quality to the pieces that makes them feel fresh and contemporary today.

Made primarily with natural materials, lighting by Isamu Noguchi adds organic sensibility to rooms decorated in both traditional and modern design styles. Akari lighting fixtures are ideal for providing soft, flattering light to a room, for enriching the look of an environment with an architectural element and for adding texture to the space.