Itchiku Kubota (by Sandy Wagner)

I have  a wonderful book called “Kimono as Art – The Landscapes of Itchiku Kubota”.  He is a master in “Tsujigahana” which is a style of kimono decoration that reached it’s popularity in the last half of the 16th century.  He worked to develop “Itchiku tsujigahana”.  A little background on his life:  At the end of WWII he was released from prisoner of war status and returned home from Siberia.  He was 31.  After he returned to Japan he went to work as a painter on silk kimonos using a technique call Yuzan dyeing (this is a resist dyeing technique creating designs freehand with a paint brush (hijizone) or with stencils as guides (katazome).  He began researching how to create tsujigahana(combining resist and painted flowers).  At 44 (1961) he established Itchiku Atelier (Itchiku Kobo) and began in earnest to work on Tsujigahana – at age 59 he achieved success with the completion of Kimono Gen (this garment summed up the completion of his research.  In 1977 at age 60 he had his first exhibition of his work in Tokyo.  Over the next 25 years he worked his craft, fulfilled his dream of having a place for his collection as he slowly built his own museum close to Mount Fuji.  Much of his work is of Mount Fuji.  He completed 40 of the 80 kimonos he called the “Symphony of Lights” series before his death at 85 years.  This series covers the four seasons including the oceans and universe.  His students learned from a master and are completing the 80 kimonos.  As you look at his work you see the amazing Shibori stitching, painting and stencil work.  Each piece tells a story of history, beauty, tradition and craftsmanship.  Itchiku was truly a master of his art.  This information is from his son Satoshi.

Gen/Floral Illusion 1976

Gen/Floral Illusion 1976

Hi/Incandescence 1981

Hi/Incandescence 1981

Hi Close Up

Hi Close Up

Ohn/Fuji, Glittering in Gold 1989

Ohn/Fuji, Glittering in Gold 1989

Ohn Close Up

Ohn Close Up

UZU/ Fire Vortex 2006

UZU/ Fire Vortex 2006

This is the life of a master artist in his craft – take time to look up more of his outstanding work.  Sandra

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3 Responses to “Itchiku Kubota (by Sandy Wagner)”


  1. 1 june November 20, 2013 at 1:38 pm

    Sandra, thanks for this.

    I was not aware of this Japanese artist before; as is often the case at Ragged Cloth, I learned a lot. And thought a lot.

    “The Symphony of Light”, which I found potrayed online, is particularly fascinating. Here’s the place where I saw this amazing “panorama”, which deals with changing light and changing seasons:

    http://www.thekubotacollection.com/collection-highlights

    (disclaimer — this is a personal aim in much of what I do [in mere oil paint and canvas — not in tied resists and over-dyed silk, of course])

    Of course, I also had questions, some of which were answered and some not. And I don’t have the book, so I looked online. A pretty good description of the process can be found here:

    http://www.howdesign.com/design-creativity/how-to/kimonomaking/

    The question I have remaining is really “how to” in a financial context. I read that Kubota made many kimonos that he considered “craft” not “art”; I’m assuming that somehow he made a living off these. I think you can see them in various online sources, and my guess would be they are made from dye resists, using stencils and hand-painting: still very labor intensive, but possibly more financially viable.

    Also, in trying to figure out whether he had assistants or not, I noted that he had an atelier (workshop) where he may have worked with others; probably he did have assistants, who may or may not have aided him with his more difficult/artistic processes, but were invaluable with the less time-consuming parts, which would enable him to live while working.

    One thing that makes me think that he had assistants is the use of the passive voice in the descriptions of the process — “it is then dipped in dye 30 or more times” rather than “He then dipped the silk into dye…”

    This is not to take away the artistry — anyone who has ever done the stitched resists understands that that process alone means that the entire image has to be kept in mind because the stitching wipes out any sense of the whole while it is in process. It’s hideously tedious and time-consuming. And of course, he must have designed, drawn, imagined all the images _and_ the way they could be done with silk, dye, thread and resist — so his artistic resources, what he knew, were vast; if he had assistants, it would be the equivalent of me (or Monet) having an assistant who stretched my canvases and hung them and brought out the ladders, or textile artists buying commercial or hand-dyed fabrics, some of the “short-cuts” we take for granted in our contemporary world.

    Kubota is a fabulous artist, and if all he had done was the “Symphony of Light”, there could be no doubt about it. His other art is equally amazing. But I think we are a bit hard on ourselves in taking too seriously the charge of not being as patient and long-suffering, etc. as he was in in making his art. The kimono styles, fabric sizes, and processes meant he didn’t need to invent that; some of the dyeing processes (although by no means all) were already available to him. And stretching the fabric in the Japanese way, akin to stretched canvas, was also available to Kubota. The conventions of landscape art, in which he excels are built out of millenia of eastern landscape traditions. He reinvented many things, perfected his craft, and then he took his knowledge in a different direction, as shown in “Symphony.”

    I think we all aspire to building on earlier work to make our art, although much of what we do as art doesn’t take a year to complete. On the other hand, most of us don’t have an atelier either. The comparisons are easy to make but I sometimes think they tend to denigrate what we do because “the other” is so exotic.

    Here’s the article that set me to thinking about this, just in case you were wondering:

    http://slowpainting.wordpress.com/2008/11/13/itchiku-kubota/

    In this blog, Robt Pincus compares Kubota’s work to current textile craft & art in US.

    thanks again for showing us a new artist to love and admire.
    June

  2. 2 olganorris November 20, 2013 at 5:05 am

    Sandra, thank you for introducing this Kimono Master to us. I always find the historic Japanese approach to mastering a skill so fascinating. There seems to be an incredibly strong emphasis on diligence, practising, and gradual mastery out of study over time – all of which are of great worth in the appreciation of work done. On the other hand, what we might call the West has always placed more weight on creativity, imagination, and ideas.
    I suppose the kinds of great skills which Itchiku Kubota developed over so many years are vulnerable to being lost as the craftsmen/artists die and folks want more cheaper goods. But still, there seems to remain in Japan a more considered approach to art; a thoughtfulness and more than a nod to tradition and diligence than perhaps we see in the breadth of our art in the West -? I certainly think that is true within the textile art world.

  3. 3 Deborah J Bein November 20, 2013 at 4:51 am

    Thank you, Sandra, I’ve seen this book…BEYOND WORDS to describe his masterful work.


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