Literally “cut gold,” kirikane refers to the meditative practice of decorating Buddhist paintings and statues with gold metal leaf. The precision of the kirikane artist is informed by devotion and mindfulness. The earliest surviving examples of kirikane originate from Baekje (18 BCE–660 CE), one of the three ancient kingdoms of Korea. In Japan, kirikane flourished during the 11th century until it faded from view three centuries later, all but extinguished by the use of gold paint to replace precious metal.
Contemporary Japanese artist Sayoko Eri (1945–2007), whose work is featured here, was a devoted revivalist of kirikane. She studied the traditional art form and applied it to everyday items such as boxes and screens as well as statues of Buddha. Here, the decorative patterns of Sayoko Eri’s creations put the observer into a contemplative state of mind.