Shumei Kobayashi (b. 1950)
The elemental powers of water, fire, air and time are the only assistants in the work of master dyer Kobayashi Shumei. In a world created by art legend Soetsu Yanagi, and mentored by a number of Living National Treasures from a variety of practices, a young Kobayashi discovered a talent for traditional Japanese dyeing practices and a critical intellectual approach to the identity of the artist.
At eighteen years of age Kobayashi Shumei heard a radio broadcast about a father and daughter who specialized in cotton dyeing techniques. The man was Living National Treasure, Motohiko Katano (1889-1975), later to become Kobayashi’s teacher and mentor. Katano espoused the idea of original thought and individual creativity as opposed to the studio system and division of labour of Japanese tradition. Eschewing the traditional Japanese practice of the studio, Kobayashi is the only practitioner of the 400 year old ‘tsutsugaki’ dyeing process who is master of the entire process from concept to final artwork.
Using the traditional Japanese noren, hanging curtain, as the canvas for his individual designs, Kobayashi has transformed the form into contemporary textile art: Some works are sewn together to become tapestry wall hangings; some are left open to retain the provocative mystery of the partially obscured space.
Originally used as a protective barrier against wind and sun, the noren also provided privacy and became a physical manifestation of the division between outside and inside space. Its design reflected the status of the business as well as a sense of fashion and style and an appreciation of culture.
With many accolades and prizes throughout his illustrious career, Kobayashi has been the subject of several documentaries in Japan, has led workshops and seminars in Australia sponsored by the Japan Foundation, and is a frequent lecturer and demonstrator of traditional dyeing techniques at Japanese museums and professional institutions.
Gracing the walls of world renowned chef Tetsuya’s Sydney and Singapore restaurants, Kobayashi’s works carry the thread of tradition into today. His many lectures and workshops in Australia and elsewhere see this thread weaving its way into the future.: “with a final rinsing, there are the lines of my design, the clarity of the background…and the manifestation of my creative soul…so then, today, tomorrow, what fabric, what design?”