Oceans – Kubota’s mystical seascapes

11th February 2019

oceans collection kimono

Kubota often used the terms ‘seas’ and ‘oceans’ almost interchangeably in his work. In this series, the seas – or oceans – are vast and apparently uncontained, with no confining land masses to inhibit their flow. Although many of his other kimono designs set parameters to the waters he depicts, in these, the illusion of freedom of movement is paramount.

Kubota apparently had indicated that he intended for these five kimono to play a part in his master plan for the Symphony of Light series, but he left little indication of where or how they would actually fit in. Together, however, they present a stunning mini-series on their own of mystical seascapes in which the line between ocean and sky is blurred, and islands seem to drift in and out, appearing more as mirages than real. Only in one kimono – Geki – does land seem to have any real substance in the midst of the seemingly endless seas. They are, for the most part, meditative works, offering a space of peace and quiet, although occasional undercurrents of more intense elements can be sensed.

The designs used for this group of kimono are remarkably consistent in that the distinctive overall motif used in each is based on interlocking tiered lozenges, a design style known as matsukawabishi (‘pine-bark’ lozenges) in Japan. This was a highly popular motif that was incorporated into designs in a number of different ways in the sixteenth century, when tsujigahana was at its height. Kubota used the basic zig-zag shape of matsukawabishi to create subtle diagonals over the surface of the fabric that dominate the design and give the kimono a unique presence that captures the ebb and flow of the oceans within them.

The delicately handled gradations of color also do much to convey the ever-changing face of water as it reflects or absorbs the shimmering light of a sunny day or the velvet-like darkness of a moonless night.

Oceans – Kubota’s mystical seascapes – by Dr Jacqueline M. Atkins, Collection Curator