In Collaboration with Photographer, Helen Hasenfeld
© Photos by Helen Hasenfeld
By Steve Beimel and Rob Schultheis
Despite the grueling process, Shigeki, like his wife, has expanded on ancient disciplines through constant invention and experimentation, "mastering the craft," he says, "but also changing its established technical traditions."
Some of his innovations:
The "mosaic technique," in which cloth is dyed by conventional methods and backed with washi paper. It is then cut into fine pieces and mounted onto a board or screen backing, to emphasize the juxtaposition of colors and mute the sense of light; applying hot wax over a stencil, creating metallic effects and contrast between light and dark to give the impression of bright light;mixing dyed cloths in relief or inlay works, for an effect reminiscent of netting or dot painting, and an enormous complexity of hue and brightness; and applying wax and colors to the fabric in a way that is direct and unrehearsed, with a strong element of spontaneity.
"Some of these experiments have been successful and some not," Shigeki says modestly, but what successes!
His works are pointillism for the 21st Century — fine, detailed, luscious explorations of color and light. Hangings, framed works and standing screens seem to glow from within like bioluminescent deep-sea fish or lichens in caverns. His pieces lead us to perceive light through the contrast between gradated highlighting and areas of color which take on added depth as we step back from them.
Although Shigeki's methods appear spontaneous, he is careful to point out that they are not random. Over the years, he has developed a sense of how the final work should appear, and he has learned how subtle modulations in color and texture add to the overall work.
Shigeki is an irresistible, human reminder of Yeats's poetic phrase, "the fascination of what is difficult." Rather than losing his personal expression, he has found something deeper than he could have imagined. The proof: he has not painted a single oil painting since leaving university.
For Shigeki Fukumoto, dyeing is a process of constant refinement, of subtle exploration and discovery, solitary work that he calls "at once methodical and experimental."
Shihoko Fukumoto, on the other hand, sees her work as an adventure, a quest for new visions and ways of realizing them, and a chance to work with other craftspeople. "There are many talented people here in Kyoto," she says, "and I really enjoy the collaboration."
There is one talented person with whom she does not collaborate creatively: her husband. Although the Fukumotos support each other's work, they have a "no touch" policy when it comes to each other's creative processes.
Yet together and individually, each has mastered one of Japan's most stringent and demanding media to cut loose, to soar freely in the boundless realm of their own personal visions. You can see the magic in just how effortless, how devoid of strain or artifice, their works are full of the colors and textures one sees on earth, in the sea, in the sky and in dreams.
- The Magical Mold of Sake by John Gauntner
- Hiroshi Saito at Santa Fe Weaving Gallery