I have been to one of the most prestigious of all art fairs, Frieze Masters, in Regents Park in London. World famous galleries were showing off their collections to top level collectors. One of the galleries I found there was Sebastian Izzard, from New York, who was showing some beautiful pieces of 17th – 19th century Japanese art.
My favourite piece was an early 17th-century pair of large screens, showing panoramic scenes of contemporary Kyoto, filled with fascinating details, with court people playing, resting and reading, as well as others eating street food, such as soba noodles, and people chatting and relaxing, and selling their wares on the street. All life is there, and I can imagine just what it’s like in Kyoto in 1630. It’s difficult to say if I would have preferred court life or downtown life, if I could go back to that time. It is all so detailed in these screens, all the movements and facial expressions of everyone, and all the atmosphere of Kyoto at its height.
I also like the following hanging scroll painting of Oiran ladies (high-ranking courtesans). This scroll was created in the early 19th century by Kikugawa Eizan, one of most cerebrated Ukiyo-e (floating art) artists of that time. We can see the ladies in the latest fashions, wearing expensive and rather trendy costumes. Their kimono patterns are beautifully embroidered with tinsel, peony and butterfly motifs, which have an almost three-dimensional effect.
My tea ceremony teacher always told me that to show the back of neck is the most erotic attitude in kimono world. These ladies are wearing many layers, but their neck-lines are quite low, which means they are probably ‘professional’ women. They are also wearing a lot of large Kanzashi (hair accessories), which also indicates their rank (high ranking courtesans tend to have a lot of these).
These traditional motifs still have a meaning in Japan, as part of the kimono world. However, these days hand-embroidered work, hand-drawing, old fashioned dyeing methods, and many other process involved in kimono making, are becoming rare and extremely expensive. The Japanese government operates a ‘living national treasure’ system, designating certain key individuals who embody intangible national cultural values as ‘living human treasures’.
I just wish that we will be able to produce, keep, and show fantastic traditional craftsmanship in the future somehow.
The Keiko Uchida kimono bedroom collection is a first step along this road, introducing affordable, wearable kimonos for all kinds of people, all around the world.