Normally, I don’t know if I would say I am particularly interested in the fashion arts, but an article in this month’s Asian Art newspaper really caught my eye.
It is hardly rare to see brilliantly colorful kimono with landscapes or other images depicted on them. In fact, considering the centrality of ink painting in traditional Japanese fine arts, and the tendency of paintings and prints both to fade or darken over time, kimono are likely the most colorful of Japan’s traditional arts. But Ichiku Kubota’s works somehow go beyond that. Through the use of modern dyes, and of gold and silver thread, he creates kimono that truly pop, with the vividness of color of a tie-dye t-shirt. I have not yet had the pleasure of seeing any of his works in person, and only discovered him just a few days ago through this article. However, if the images in Asian Art are anything to judge by, I would almost venture to say that I am almost in disbelief that such incredibly brilliant colors could possibly exist in real life.
Kubota supposedly uses a dyeing technique known as tsujigahana (辻ヶ花) which is all but a complete mystery to art historians. He claims to have seen a small piece of a tsujigahana textile at the Tokyo National Museum in 1937,
when he was 20, and to have been inspired by it. I am not sure what to make of this, considering that the article then goes on to explain that while the term tsujigahana appears in numerous medieval texts, referring to a particular type of textiles of great beauty and popularity among courtiers and the like, modern day art historians have no surviving examples of textiles that they know for sure are tsujigahana, and thus they cannot be sure what such works looked like or how they were made. So what did Kubota see that day at the Tokyo National Museum?
Whatever it was, it stayed with him until 1977 when, at the age of 60, he developed his own dyeing and decorating techniques, calling his style “Ichiku Tsujigahana”, and emerging
more fully as a revolutionary textile artist.
Exhibitions of Kubota’s works are currently on display at the Timken Museum of Art and San Diego Museum of Art, until Jan 4. The exhibition then moves to Canton, Ohio, where it will be shown from Feb 8 to Apr 26.