Itchiku Kubota was born in Kanda, Tokyo, in 1917, the son of an antique dealer. He grew up in an environment rich with opportunities to view traditional Japanese art: the neighbourhood in which he lived was filled with dyeing workshops.
In 1931, at the age of 14, he became an apprentice to Kiyoshi Kobayashi, who specialised in Yuzen dyeing. The young Kubota devoted himself to learning the trade, and by the age of nineteen established a dyeing studio of his own.
At 20, he first encountered a fragment of a sixteenth-century textile called Tsujigahana at the Tokyo National Museum, and that moment changed his life.
“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, Itchiku Tsujigahana: works of Itchiku Kubota, 1979).
Tsujigahana was a popular dyeing method in the Muromachi to early Edo period. It briefly flourished and suddenly disappeared. Itchiku was fascinated by the mysterious beauty of the cloth – it possessed a dyeing and decorative style different to the one that he knew.
There were no records left behind to explain or describe the technique, and Itchiku devoted himself to reviving Tsujigahana dyeing processes.
In the following years, Itchiku Kubota experienced hardships. He had been drafted to the frontlines during the World War II and spent three years in a prisoner-of-war camp, until his demobilization at the age of 31. On his return to Japan, he set up a workshop in Tokyo and went back to Yuzen dyeing. Seven years later he finally decided to devote himself to the creation of his own Tsujigahana, not as an attempt to imitate the past, but rather to celebrate a glorious dyeing technique in the present day.
After much trial and error, aged 60, Itchiku finally discovered a technique which could revive Tsujigahana. He named it “Itchiku Tsujigahana”: a perfect marriage between past and present and as homage to a historical and much admired technique. His first Itchiku Tsujigahana exhibition took place in 1977, and although some traditionalists criticized Kubota for attaching the term “tsujigahana” to his work, he had a strong advocate in Tomoyuki Yamanobe, one of the most respected textile scholars of the time.
By 1978, Kubota began to look beyond individual kimono and, instead, to view it as a continuous canvas on which he could create panoramic visions permeated with light and colour. In 1979, he created five-kimono series titled “The Setting Sun”. The design represented the last two hours of the day, moving continuously from one kimono to the next. The excitement with which this series was received led to his next great obsession, a creation of “Symphony of Light”, a planned life work of some 80 contiguous kimono that would depict, as he put it, the “grandeur of the universe”. Unfortunately, the artist passed away in 2003, before the series could be completed.
Over the years, Kubota’s work received great acclaim both nationally and internationally. The Itchiku Tsujigahana technique gained worldwide recognition, and the artist received significant awards for his work, among them: an award from the Society for the Dissemination of Folk Costumes and Customs (1978); Forth Annual Award of the Society for Furthering of Studies on Costume (1983); and the Chevalier de l’Order des Arts at des Lettres from the French Ministry of Culture (1990). They are symbols of the creative risks Kubota, as an artist, was willing to take, and of his artistic legacy as represented by his kimono collection of remarkable and eye-dazzling beauty.See collection