The Symphony of Light

If Japanese artist Itchiku Kubota had his way, he would of lived to be 120. That's how long the late textile master believed it would of taken him to complete his life's work a series of 80 elaborately handcrafted kimonos, which, when hung side by side, would of formed a panoramic tapestry celebrating the four seasons and the cosmos. Kubota, a renowned craftsman and painter, considered this series, entitled "Symphony of Light," to be his masterpiece. By the time of his death aged 86 in 2003 only 46 were completed.

Each work is designed to be an atmospheric painting of a certain season, element or setting, but is also part of a more important landscape which is magically unveiled once the kimono are placed next to each other.

Born in Toyko in 1917, Kubota began studying yuzen (rice-paste resist) dyeing at age 14. Six years later, he stumbled upon a fragment of elegantly patterned cloth in the Tokyo National Museum. "Trembling in the face of such mastery and refinement of beauty," he relates, he stood transfixed for three hours. "In a sudden moment, I encountered a source of boundless creativity which revealed to me my calling."

More than 350 years old, the remnant was a rare example of the lost art of tsujigahana, a complex method of tie-dyeing embellished with intricate embroidery, elaborate brush painting, sumi ink drawing and gold-leaf application. The technique so often referred to as "illusionary dyeing," flourished in Japan during the 14th to 16th centuries.


Over the years, Kubota's fascination with tsujigahana grew. After his release in 1951 from a Siberian prisoner-of-war camp, he decided to devote himself to creating a modified version of the lost art a goal that consumed 20 years. He has since won international acclaim for his unconventional designs, distinctive use of colour and unwavering dedication to an extraordinarily laborious craft.

The juxtaposed kimonos of the "Symphony of Light" series compose a continuous mountain landscape that pans poetically through the purple shades of evening, the mauve starkness of a sudden snow and the golden shafts of autumn's last light. "I cannot die in peace until I have finished the series to which I have devoted my life," insists Kubota. "While envisioning a panorama of 80 works, I am but a traveller wandering on a path in search of more depth to my dye-colours."