Looking Back, Moving Forward – Reflecting on the Itchiku Kubota Exhibition
WHAT DO THE MOUNTAIN SPIRITS PONDER?
November 22nd, 2018 – February 20th, 2019
The exhibition was organized by the International Chodiev Foundation.
Inarguably, this exhibition of master work by Japanese artist Itchiku Kubota was the most attended art exhibition in the gallery’s history, setting daily, weekly, monthly and overall exhibition attendance records. His lifework of reimagining a long lost technique, Tsujigihana, and of contemplating individual kimono into wide vistas, like murals, has etched his name into the annals of art and textile museums around the world.
TIMELINE OF THE EXHIBITION
Organizing the exhibition; shipping, handling of the international tour – May 2017 to November 2018
Uncrating of first kimono with VIPs and sponsors – October 26, 2018
When East Comes West; unveiling of signature kimono, ‘San’ at Four Points by Sheraton – November 6, 2018
Opening reception, ‘What do the Mountain Spirits Ponder?’ – November 22, 2018 to Feb. 20, 2019
About the Artist
Kubota left school at age 14 to become the apprentice of Kobayashi Kiyoshi, a Tokyo kimono artist who specialized in hand-painted yuzen (a paste-resist-dyeing technique). Kubota also studied other techniques for decorating fabrics, as well as Japanese-style landscape painting and portraiture.
At the age of 20, he first saw a fragment of a textile in the tsujigahana style at the Tokyo National Museum, and decided to devote his life to recreating it. Because no instructions survive that explain how to reproduce the complex decorative techniques seen in tsujigahana, and because the silk fabric necessary for its successful production (nerinuki) is no longer woven, Kubota was forced to experiment by himself for decades.
In 1962, Kubota decided that there were too many technical problems surrounding his mission to recreate traditional tsujigahana. He would instead develop his own form of tsujigahana, called “Itchiku Tsujigahana,” substituting a contemporary silk crepe fabric (chirimen) for nerinuki and synthetic dyes for natural colors. In 1977, when Kubota was 60 years old, he displayed his decorated kimono for the first time in an exhibition in Tokyo.
Over the next 30 years, Kubota’s work would tour to museums around the world, including locations in France, Russia, Belgium, the United States and Canada.
Make your own kimono with glue and materials from around the house. Click the image below for the instructions.
Questions & Answers
Kimonos: To really appreciate Kubota’s work, it’s important to know a little about the rich history of kimonos.
The kimono (きもの/着物) (lit.,"thing to wear" – from the verb ki (着), "to wear (on the shoulders)" and the noun mono (物), "thing") is a traditional Japanese garment, and the national dress of Japan. The kimono is constructed of mostly rectangular pieces of fabric, cut from a specific bolt of fabric known as a tanmono. Various types of kimono indicate the wearer's age, gender, the formality of the occasion, and less commonly, marital status, when worn; decoration, style of wear, and accessories also denote these. Types of kimono can range in formality from the extremely informal to the most formal of occasions.
Q: How has Kubota reimagined the use and presentation of kimono? What kind of Japanese cultural heritage is present in his work?
Textile practice: Kubota reimagined a lost style of process, called Tsujigihana. Let’s explore this in more detail.
Tsujigahana was a tie-dyeing technique which used drawings and foil impressions. This appeared in Japanese literature as a common style at the end of the 15th century and disappeared some 100 years later, only to be replaced by a more successful technique called “Yuzen”. The original Yuzen process used stencils to transfer a design onto fabric, and starch (known as nori) onto the fabric to allow colors to be added layer by layer. Tsujigahana, as is known, is a complex process comprising several steps: first comes the preliminary drawing where the pattern will be stitched on the white fabric, then comes the tying and thirdly, the dyeing of the fabric.
The details of the technique have been lost to the ages, and the original Tsujigahana technique remains a mystery. Kubota worked tirelessly to attempt to break this code, but with limited information simply could not. Instead, he finally opted to apply what he knew about it with other, more contemporary practices, thereby reinventing the practice.
Q: Kubota called this new style of work, ‘Itchiku Tsujigahana’. Do you feel that’s arrogant or an homage to the tradition?
Would you credit Kubota with inventing an entirely new textile practice, or do you feel he’s borrowed and applied several other styles together? Are there other artists in music or film who you feel adopt and renew older traditions in their practice?