Story VIII | Threads of Significance

Shumei Kobayashi  Tsutsugaki and Yūzen painting

“Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so that each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry.” Richard Feynman 1918-1988 Theoretical Physicist

That Nature should be the connecting thread between a practising Buddhist Shugendo shaman ‘moonlighting’ as a tsutsugaki artist and a theoretical physicist is not at all strange. Shumei Kobayashi as Buddhist speaks of primitive religions such as Japan’s mountain-centered animism and laments their passing in our fast-paced contemporary society. He shares his earliest recollections as a ‘young lamb’ in the midst of six old practitioners of the Shugendo sect and the unrelenting day and night ritualistic training required to achieve an understanding of the universe – the very same goal as theoretical physics – different threads of the same tapestry.


In 2011 the threads and pathways of life’s patterns brought contemporary textile artist Shumei Kobayashi to Lesley Kehoe Galleries for his first solo exhibition in a commercial gallery. The title of that exhibition, ‘Weaving the Future’ was portentous, as Shumei is now a regular and successful exhibitor with the Galleries. The interweaving threads that are characteristic of Shumei’s foundation canvases are metaphors for the serendipitous life threads that see the artist creating significant networks in Australia. Those networks, many of which are introduced and nurtured by Lesley Kehoe Galleries and its clients, have successfully created a dynamic that sees Shumei now as the recipient of a special artist’s visa for permanent residency in Australia.

Currently establishing a studio in the environs of the renowned Curly Flat vineyard, the artist is discovering native materials for his natural pigments and has devised a new art name for works created in Australia – white cloud: shiroi kumo (白雲) in Japanese this reflects the initials of his name Shumei Kobayashi as well as paying tribute to the inspiring skyscapes of the Lancefield area. The artist’s life-long practice as a Shugendō Buddhist shaman and its respect for and communion with nature and the spiritual world informs all his work. His original and contemporary interpretations of these elements speak both to the universal and to the current zeitgeist.


Our role as a gallery is that of a connoisseur gathering threads and creating tapestries for others to enjoy, a creative activity beautifully expressed by John Bartlett (1820-1905), ‘I have gathered a posy of other men’s flowers and nothing but the thread that binds them is mine own.’

Lesley Kehoe Galleries is pleased to introduce Shumei’s third solo exhibition in the gallery opening August 3rd, 2016 at 11am.


Shumei Kobayashi apprenticed with Living National Treasure, Motohiko Katano (1889-1975) and under this master’s influence espoused the idea of original thought and individual creativity as opposed to the studio system and division of labour of Japanese tradition. Shumei is master of the entire process from concept to final artwork, although remnants of the tradition remain in the artist-specified commissioning of the base hemp, linen and fine silk from specialists in Kyoto.

With no stencil, tsutsugaki is the technique of painting directly onto fabric. Master of both silk and hemp dyeing, Shumei’s power as an artist is strongest in his contemporary interpretations of the traditional and the natural. His bold designs, often abstracted visions, sit as dynamic contrasts to the sensual texture of their background fabric – newly woven linen or thick chunky strands of hemp. This exhibition centres around the themes of waterfalls and rope – natural threads, sacred threads, and mundane threads. What follows are the artist’s words about this body of work:


Waterfall 瀧・滝

The idea of water, waterfalls, as sacred is one that arises from the acknowledgement of water as a manifestation of Nature – the larger the scale, the greater the feeling of otherworldly grandeur. From ancient times humans have acknowledged water’s scarcity and importance, both revered and feared (floods for example), – water as a manifestation of the unapproachable divine, bursting forth. On occasion, waterfalls have even been deified.

These works express 40 years of my personal experiences and feelings toward grand waterfalls, particularly the Nachi falls (in Wakayama province, one of the best-known falls in Japan).

LKG_Japanese_Art_Shumei_Threads4_650Rope, cord, climbing rope 縄・綱・ザイル

For towing, pulling and support ‘tsuna’ is good; for binding and tying ‘nawa’ is good. For use in weaving we have ‘ito’ and ‘himo’. ‘Nawa’ and ‘rope’ signify something fairly thick. In the past, the plant ‘tsuru’ and various long thin grasses of various kinds were used, also ‘wara’ and raw silk thread. In the 18th century metal was intertwined for ‘wire rope’; in more modern times, hemp, Chinese palm, cotton were used, and in the 20th century nylon and other chemical and carbon fibres were made practical. As it is used, rope changes state and expression… it is like us sentient beings – as we go through the trials and experiences of life some of us are hurt, while others, licking their wounds, march on persevering in fulfilling their destiny… I was projecting these thoughts onto the rope’s expressions as I worked on these pieces.