The Symphony of Light

Collection The Symphony of Light

‘Symphony of Light’, a continuous series of kimono of outstanding beauty, is Itchiku Kubota’s most significant and memorable work. It is the product of a unique vision influenced and inspired by his interest in the ever-changing effects of light that, as he once said, “plunges everything into endlessly changing colour. Such light brings a special beauty to bloom”.

Throughout his life, Itchiku Kubota was strongly motivated by his long-standing admiration and love for nature, a vision that is clearly evident in all his work.

‘Symphony of Light’ started out as a set of five kimono that, when shown together, would form a continuous mystical landscape coloured by the glancing light of a setting sun and adorned with tsujigahana motifs. This set was exhibited to great acclaim in a 1982 exhibition that toured twenty-one cities throughout Japan. The enthusiastic response encouraged the artist to develop designs for another group of kimono that would further expand the series, and it was at this point that Kubota began to contemplate the production of a larger and more elaborate contiguous group of panoramic kimono.

These kimono were also radically different to Kubota’s earlier works: they were oversized, based on uchikake, the full-length, unbelted outer robes with trailing padded hems, giving the garments an aura of drama and presence. They were made with a heavier silk crepe woven with wefts of gold or silver, adding an extra reflective quality to the designs. They were no longer wearable art as were his earlier kimono: but rather canvases for display as panoramic masterpieces.

By 1986, Itchiku Kubota had added ten more kimono to the series and displayed them as part of the exhibition ‘Garments of Reverberating Light’. The artist expanded his concept from kimono reflecting the golden light of autumn to ones that showed winter, too. This was another major success for Kubota.

By then, Itchiku Kubota had envisioned a grand panorama of 80 contiguous pieces for ‘Symphony of Light’; by means of these, he would present his vision of the world through two major themes, ‘The Four Seasons’ and ‘Universe’. When Kubota died in 2003, 29 additional stunningly composed works representing Autumn and Winter from ‘The Four Seasons’ and five from ‘Universe’ had been completed. Since then, two additional works based on Kubota’s designs for ‘Universe’ have been completed by Kobo, the Itchiku atelier, giving a total of 36 ‘Symphony of Light’ kimono in this collection.

The Autumn and Winter kimono form part of a compositionally linked landscape that sweeps without interruption from one garment to the next. When observed from a distance, the terrain emerges as a whole in which russet-coloured leaves shimmering in the autumn light of a setting sun gradually give way to an austere landscape veiled by pervasive snow and steeped in winter’s stillness. The seven vividly colored ‘Universe’ kimono burn with light and color; they represent the glowing core of Mount Fuji, Japan’s iconic mountain, as well as a symbol of Kubota’s own creative powers. And ever-present yet discreetly integrated into the overall design are Kubota’s recreated and delicately drawn tsujigahana flowers that reflect their ancestor’s style, yet show the evolution that has allowed them to fit comfortably within a twenty-first century context.

Although Kubota did not reach his ultimate goal of completing all 80 of the works envisioned for his masterpiece, the pieces he created are an effective demonstration of his unique creative genius that recast the kimono into a transformative art form, one that no Japanese artist had yet attempted.