Weaving the Future

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 Shumei discovered a talent for traditional Japanese dyeing practices and a critical intellectual approach to the identity of the artist. 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.

With no stencil, tsutsugaki is the technique of painting directly onto fabric. Master of both silk and hemp dyeing, Kobayashi’s power as an artist is strongest in his contemporary interpretations of the traditional noren, hanging curtain. His bold designs, often abstracted visions of various ideas of ‘connected-ness’ (weaving), sit as dynamic contrasts to the sensual texture of their background fabric – finely woven linen or thick chunky strands of hemp.

To have a damaged noren is a metaphor for a suspect business reputation and poor business credibility, reflecting the importance of the noren as a ‘face’ for a business. Popular from the Kamakura period (1185-1333) and its new urban architecture, the noren became an essential symbol of a business.

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.

An often used practical and design element in modern homes and businesses, 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.

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.

Weaving the Future
Lesley Kehoe