Oscar Wilde may have identified life’s constant imitation of art, but contrary to the age-old-adage, the reverse is just as true. Take Japanese wax-resist-dyeing artist and professor Azumi Hosoda, who presented her work at her Seattle Asian Art Museum talk on September 15. Inspired by her surrounding environments she creates zany designs for a 13th-century old garment.
Even before rendering a Google “traditional kimono” search, one can recognize how noteworthy her subject matter is. Against a rich yellow fabric she illustrates black hand-painted crocodiles ascending in size inspired by a past job of hers at the crocodile exhibit at Nagoya, Japan’s Higashiyama Zoo. On another, a blown-up drawing of a mid-motion red octopus with curling arms spanning the length of the garment inspired by a boiling octopus she saw at the Akashi fish market. But her designs—each a two-month endeavor from sketching, sectioning off fabric, dyeing, and finally sewing—aren’t limited to aquatic life. Their subjects range in novelty. During a 1995 trip to Chicago, IL she drew from the cityscape in a kimono titled, “Concrete Jungle”: a worms-eye view of downtown skyscrapers and professional pedestrians.
“I become creative in any environment. I have been creating something new every year,” said Hosoda through email.
Moreover, Hosoda’s kimonos communicate through vivid color— a skill she’s gained by being hyper-observant. With a love for diving in the lucid subtropical waters in her hometown of Kyoto, Japan, she’s built a keen and trusted relationship with her physical environment to inform the beauty in her work. Reared in an artistic family, she spent a great deal of time soaking up knowledge in her mother’s calligraphy studio and attending art exhibitions—one of which featured what would become her lifelong passion: rouzome dyeing. A form of dyeing in which wax is treated to exclude sections of fabric from dye. Now, a professor at Nagoya University of Arts in Kitanagoya, Japan, Hosoda has mastered contemporizing a predominant style in a fresh and comedically-literate way.
“I would like to dye bold and delicate designs with a touch of humor; to see kimono[s] continue to carry dreams and free spirits,” Hosoda said.
And never were her aspirations more visible than during her presentation. Her audience broke into laughter when viewing her “KIKI office” (2001) and “Haunted House” (1997) kimonos, demonstrating exactly how Hosoda successfully intertwines levity and art. For example, her “KIKI Office” kimono transposes an otherwise basic style of dress to show a multi-story ennui office building equipped with a ground-level starbucks, which undoubtedly gained Seattleite fanfare.
“The biggest difference between Hosoda’s work and traditional kimono is its design, color, [and] subject. She stays away from traditional kimono motif renderings of flowers, birds, wind, and the moon. Instead she finds inspiration in things she has seen, experienced, or finds curious,” said Mariko Kayama-Ugawa, founder of Kimono Art, an online database of kimono work.
Additionally, Hosoda draws from the historical evolution of kimonos. Much like the explorative era of kimonos during Japan’s Edo period (16th-18th century)— as well as Hosoda’s frame of reference— curiosity energizes her work.
“Not only you can enjoy her beautiful work by wearing it but also displaying it as a fine art,” Kayama-Ugawa said. “She has held private exhibitions at prestigious galleries in Kyoto, which is quite rare case for modern kimono artist.”
The style of garb known as kosode, which later became the kimono, was born from the Muromachi period (13th-15th century). Styles of prior epoch’s slowly shed layers of fabric and attached exclusivity as what is known as the modern-day kimono became more accessible. But for Hosoda, the aforementioned Edo period, when commoners reimagined kimono designs, originated the expressive designs visible in Hosoda’s modern work. “This era is the era of confusion, but I think it was a free era of Kimono,” Hosoda said.