San: a keynote image of the collection

14th January 2019

san kimono on display

San, the kimono that serves as the keynote image for the Kubota Kimono Collection, is one that had special personal relevance for Itchiku Kubota. He had enlisted in the Japanese Army in 1938 when he was 21 years old and returned home after completing two years of service. Then, as the war progressed, he was called back to service in 1944 and sent to the northern front where, near the close of World War II, he was captured and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp in Siberia, where he remained interned for three years.

For a brief period, he worked with fellow prisoners to produce plays, for which he made costumes out of scrap pieces of paper. But soon the plays were prohibited, and he found that only the brilliant Siberian sunsets that bathed the dreary land in light and color could bring him some comfort after the drudgery of a long day’s work. He often said he would gaze out across the Siberian plains and think of home, family and friends as he watched the blazing sun set. He wrote that its lingering rays gave him the only hope for the future that he might have had in those dreary days, and its beauty filled him with “a wordless emotion comprising grief, sorrow, solemnity, love, and much more.”

The impact that the stirring Siberian sunset had on Kubota’s creative psyche was, perhaps, a turning point, allowing him to look at the world through the eyes of an artist, not simply as a prisoner of war. It fed the imaginative laboratory of his mind, and, as he watched the sun’s evening descent to the horizon, he found himself studying the way the light would change the colors that flooded the sky. He thus gained a better understanding of the power of light, a starting point that eventually became an element that played a major role in Kubota’s work after his return to Japan.

The setting sun also became an important motif for Kubota, and it has appeared in many ways, first in a five-kimono contiguous series called The Setting Sun (1979) that set the format for Symphony of Light, and later in several of his Fuji kimono. Nowhere, however, is this motif seen more clearly than in the design of this stunningly beautiful kimono that vividly encompasses both splendor and melancholy as the sun sinks slowly from the sky. It is an image that, once seen, will not be forgotten.

San: a keynote image of the Kubota collection – by Dr Jacqueline M. Atkins, Collection Curator