I knew I had to see them for myself as I looked at the screen of my wife Laila’s iPhone. She had just come home from the Itchiku Kubota exhibit at the Textile Museum of Canada on Centre Street in downtown Toronto and the two dozen images she had snapped were stunning. As she gave me a rundown of the work involved in making the kimono(s), the cliché that came into my head was the classic – “I don’t know much about (textile) art, but I know what I like!”
ARTISTRY IN SILK: THE KIMONO OF ITCHIKU KUBOTA
Exhibit open until May 13, 2018!
I spent the next day net surfing my way to some articles on the elaborate and multiple time-consuming steps Kubota took to create his kimono art. I came across lots of unknown Japanese terms which led to more reading – and to the outline of his biography.
Leaving school at 14, he spent the next six years learning the basics of his craft with a master kimono painter. It was a visit to National Museum in Tokyo when he was 20 which would set the course for the rest of his life. What he saw was a piece of textile done in the lost traditional fabric dying technique (Tsujigahana). He would later write –
“Restraining the pounding of my heart, I gazed intently at that small piece of fabric exuding a subtle and profound atmosphere (…). It carried a quality that was almost plaintive and mysterious. In the hall which was practically devoid of visitors, I continued to look at that small piece of fabric, as if placed under a spell, for over three hours”.(Itchiku Kubota, in “Itchiku Tsujigahana : works of Itchiku Kubota”, 1979
By the early 1960’s – he was now in his forties – accepting that he could not recreate the old technique, he turned to innovating with modern adaptations which included using
- a silk crepe fabric instead of the traditional nerinuki fabric and
- synthetic dyes instead of natural ones.
His first kimonos were put on public display for the first time in 1977 when he was sixty! In all, he would create over 120 of his kimono masterpieces, of which 41 are on display at the Toronto exhibit.
The very first one you see – it is on the second floor near the steps leading to the third-floor exhibition space where the rest of the collection hangs – is perhaps the most traditional one of them all.
Up the stairs and a turn to the right and more wow!
What Goes Into The Making Of A Kubota Kimono:
The Mount Fuji Kimono Series:
Symphony of Light series – a set of six kimonos
Another set of three kimonos from the 1986-1987 Symphony of Light: Seasons period are titled:
- Ryou / Certitude (1986)
- Hour / Change (1986)
- Hin / Nostalgia (1987)
All feature tie-dyeing, ink painting, and embroidery on silk crepe which has been woven with gold wefts.
This set of three kimonos is followed by a couple of others in the Symphony of Light: Seasons series, the first a collection of four focussed on late autumn and early winter –
An hour later I was back to the beginning of the exhibit. I did another go-round, this time looking for detail as opposed to overview shots. Here are a few of the sixty or so I took!
The Kubota Museum is located about 50 kilometers to the west of Tokyo. Tripadvisor reviewers (245 and counting) give it a close to perfect rating – see here for comments. A bonus for visitors is the view of Mount Fuji some twelve kilometers to the south on the other side of Lake Kawaguchi.
If Tokyo is not in your immediate travel plans (!) then you need to get to the Textile Museum in Toronto to experience ARTISTRY IN SILK: THE KIMONO OF ITCHIKU KUBOTA for yourself.
Hopefully, my photos will have given you a reason to go. I will say, however, that as much as I tried to get the colour balance right, I know that what you see on your computer of iPhone screen does not come close to the luminescent reality of the kimonos as you stand in front of them.
One thing you might do – that I did not – is ask if there is a guide available to explain some of what is involved in the production of these masterpieces.
After Toronto the exhibit moves on to Utica, New York where it will be on display from June 10 to September 16 at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute Museum of Art. See here for an article previewing the Utica show.
Additional Resources –
The Toronto Public Library system has three copies of Dale Gluckman’s Kimono as Art: The Landscapes of Itchiku Kubota (2008). I put a hold on a copy in early March at which time I was #5 in the waiting line.
It looks like one will become available in mid-April just as I head off to the airport for a three-week trek/climb in Upper Mustang in Nepal! See here for the Toronto Public Library details.
The book is also available at Amazon but only from third-party sellers and with a starting price of $100. U.S.
More Toronto Art To Consider!
If you want to make a day of it in downtown T.O., there are other things to check out. Here are a couple of possibilities. The first is free! Click on the titles to access the posts…