Shihoko Fukumoto studied painting but discovered that the medium was not suited to her ideas or ways of working. She has now turned her artistic skills to making wall-hung works and installations using indigo dyed textiles instead. She combines the traditional Japanese craft with her own invented techniques to achieve astonishing gradations in colour and effects of luminosity. Her imagery often incorporates the moon and water and spatial relationships to capture and draw her audience into the universal dimension of her works.
Shihoko Fukumoto studied painting at the Kyoto Municipal University of Fine Arts. After several years, however, she realised that the medium of paint was not suited to her ideas or ways of working and turned her hand to making wall-hung works and installations using indigo dyed textiles instead.
Blending the demanding traditional Japanese craft of indigo dyeing, ‘shibori’, and tonal gradation dyeing, ‘bokashi’, Fukumoto creates subtle works of luminous, transcendent beauty. Although contemporary in feel, her works still exude a sense of tradition, which she also acknowledges through her involvement in kimono design.
The artist’s major concerns are with space and for her, ‘ai’, the natural Japanese indigo dye, is more than merely a shade of blue – it is the colour of space. Explaining its unique qualities, Fukumoto says, ‘the characteristic of “ai” is its hue, which has a highly spiritual element and transparent beauty’.
Despite only using indigo to dye her fabrics, the artist achieves an astonishing range of subtly nuanced blues, light to dark and hues of purple. The attainment of such variety testifies to the painstaking procedures involved in a craft that would defy the patience and ability of most contemporary artists.
In 2001, Fukumoto participated in the innovative UK-based ‘Textural Space’ project, originated by the Surrey Institute of Art and Design University College and partly funded by Visiting Arts. The project brought together thirteen leading contemporary Japanese textile artists and featured large-scale work that explored, in innovative ways, the three-dimensional potential of textiles within an installation format.
In the catalogue accompanying the exhibition, curator Lesley Millar describes Fukumoto’s working process:
‘The methods of indigo dyeing are lengthy, over a period of four to five days the cloth can be dyed several tens of times to reach the required depth of colour, sometimes using several dye baths of differing intensity to achieve the most subtle gradation of dyed colour.’
It is not only the dyeing process itself that requires careful thought and execution as Millar points out. ‘The long pieces of linen which comprise the work “Water-Scape” required the construction of a pulley while they were suspended in the dye vat’, she writes, adding, ‘After dyeing, heavy brushes were used on the cloth to create the wave effect in the weave.’
Millar picks out the work ‘Opening Moon, Closing Moon’ as an example where the control needed during dyeing was at its most crucial to avoid staining the white areas with the dye during the rinsing of the cloth. Millar explains, ‘This was achieved by hanging the cloth on a pole with the white area uppermost and washing it with a shower hose.’ The work itself depicted the phase of the moon at the time of the opening of the Textural Space exhibition and the phase when the exhibition closed at its first venue.
Fukumoto’s imagery often incorporates the moon and water and spatial relationships to capture and draw her audience into the universal dimension of her works. Her subject matter is as simple and as spiritual and elegant as her medium. Millar writes that ‘Fukumoto describes indigo as a “happy dispensation from nature”. Her inspiration is derived in part from walking the city of Kyoto, its vibrancy and the peace of its temples. The guiding principles behind the work are simplicity, freshness and depth.’ She cites the artist emphasising the development of her practice: ‘when I was young I expressed only simplicity and freshness, as I become older depth is more important.’
Shihoko Fukumoto often invents her own techniques and tools in order to achieve the result she desires. This enables her to respond intuitively to the possibilities inherent in the dyeing process. Through a continual process of experimention, each new work provides sources of inspiration for the next.
The work ‘Milky Way’, for example, is made from Fukumoto’s own variation on the traditional dyeing technique method of ‘shibori’. Made from several small squares of Turpan cotton, which has an extra long staple fibre, the work had an extraordinary luminosity.
Indeed, light is crucial to an understanding of Fukumoto work, a paradox given indigo’s vulnerability to sunlight. Nevertheless, the artist remained unfazed, simply developing a special technique to prevent it from fading under exposed conditions. As a natural dye, indigo is sensitive other aspects of the weather too and this determines the artist’s working patterns. Summers are spent assessing the work she has recently completed and planning new works while winters are spent dyeing textiles.
Fukumoto has had solo shows in Sweden and Japan and has participated in several group exhibitions internationally. She has won numerous prizes for her works, many of which are held in collections in Japan, the US and Sweden.
Source: Based on texts by Lesley Millar in the ‘Textural Space’ catalogue and website
Author: Diana Yeh, Visiting Arts
Shihoko Fukumoto was born in Osaka, Japan in 1945. She graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1968 and a Master of Arts in 1969 from the Kyoto Municipal University of Fine Arts. She has had solo shows in Sweden and Japan and has participated in several group exhibitions internationally.
Exhibition / Installation
The National Museum of Art, Osaka
Rohsska Konstslojdmuseet, Sweden
Kyoto Prefectural Library, Stanford University Hospital, Palo Alto, California
The Modern Dye-Work Museum, Kyoto
Meijo Univeristym Nagoya
Kyoto Municipal Women´s Centre
Smith Kline Beecham Seiyaki KK, Tokyo
The Shoko chukin Bank, Tokyo
Tokyo Lawyer´s Hall
Juraku Textile Museum, Kyoto
The Kyoto Hotel
The Kanazawa ANA Hotel, Kanazawa
The Huis Ten Bosch JR, Tokyo, arch. Cesar Pelli)
The ARSOR OSHO inc, Kobuchizawa, arch. Mario Bellini)
The Wakayama Prefectural Medical University
The Kojimachi Hall, Tokyo
SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS
Exhibition / Installation
2002 Muromachi Museum of Art, Kyoto, Japan
2001 ‘Textural Space’, contemporary Japanese textile art, Foyer Gallery and James Hockey Gallery, Surrey, Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, Brighton, and Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich, UK
2001 ‘Crafts in Kyoto 1945-2000’, The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, and The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, Japan
2001 ‘Contemporary Textile, Weaving and Dyeing: Ways of Formative Thinking,’ The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, Japan
2001 Bellas Artes Gallery, Santa Fe, US
1999/2000 ‘50 Masters: 100 Masterpieces from Contemporary Japanese Crafts’, Paris, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Fukushima, Fukuoka, Japan
1999 ‘Invitation exhibition of Chongju International Craft Biennale’, Chongju, Korea
1999 ‘4th International Tapestry Festival’, Bauvais, France
1998 ‘Asian Avant-Garde’, Christies, London, UK
1991 ‘Dyeing and Weaving: Today’s Trends II’, Gunma Prefectural Museum of Modern Art, Japan
1987/90/92 ‘Biennale International de Lausanne’, Musee Cantonnal des Beaux Arts, Lausanne, Switzerland
Exhibition / Installation
1993 Takashimaya Co. Ltd. Fine Arts Gallery, New York, Tokyo, Kyoto, Japan
1990 Rohsska Art and Crafts Museum. Gothenburg, Sweden
PRIZES AND COMMISSIONS
1996 Tenri Biennale, 1st Prize
1994 Contemporary Textile Design Dyeing, Kyoto Akebono Prize
1992 Kansai Grand Art Prize, Silver prize
1984 Asahi Contemporary Crafts Exhibition
1982 36th Kyoto Crafts Exhibition, New Japanese Crafts, Tomorrow´s Crafts, Sankei Shimbun Excellence Award
1979 New Japanese Crafts Exhibition, Grand Prix
1978, 79,83 32nd, 33rd, 37th Kyoto Crafts Exhibition, Grand Prix
This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.
Contemporary Japanese Textile Art
(01 April 01 - 31 December 01)
Website of ‘Textural Space’ project originated by the Surrey Institute of Art and Design University College, UK.