Wednesday, September 12, 2007

hair and other fibers

A couple of days ago I went to the Tetsuo Ishihara Museum of Traditional Japanese Hairstyles, in Gion. I'd read about it in the Kyoto Visitor's Guide, which cryptically provided no address or directions. I found the website linked above, and pedaled down to Shijo with a vague notion of how to find it. I was assuming that, like all other things in Gion, it would be hidden to those not in the know, so I was prepared for a bit of a treasure hunt. Turned out to be easy to find, but no less delightful in the discovering: up a narrow staircase from a darkened rear-entrance, into an equally narrow u-shaped room with display cases on either side. I'd say it hardly qualifies as a museum, but for my purposes -- sitting and sketching -- it was perfect.

The configurations of shapes and loops and ornaments ranged from sublime to outrageous, all of them great fun to draw.

Afterwards, the woman who was working behind the counter played a video for me, which showed Tetsuo Ishihara creating three of these hair sculptures on a live model. He still does the hair for many a maiko, and apparently it's somewhat contentious that he has gone as public as he has. It was fascinating to watch him work, though, with deft precision and a rakish disregard for the poor girl's scalp. I had no idea how much scaffolding goes into some of these styles, although I don't know how else they'd defy gravity so gracefully.

Then the woman explained to me the contradiction of Japanese hair being so straight and flat, and yet pliable into these kinds of dimensions. It's the same with kimono, she said, on its own it is flat and straight, just square shapes; but wrapped just so around the shoulders, draping elegantly on the arms of a woman, it transforms into a curving and sensual line. At least I think that's what she said.

That's what I love about art here -- there's always some kind of underlying philosophy, a metaphor of relationships that seems to cut right to the essense of things. It's not just a pretty hairstyle, it is a coded message; a signifier of age, of status, of position in time. I want to achieve the same meaningfulness in my art, but without appearing contrived or pretentious. This, I surmise, is a life-long process.

On the way home I stopped at yet another furuhon-ya-san (used bookstore) to gather materials for collaging. I got a couple of pocket atlases and a pile of worm-eaten maps, sensing an emerging theme...

Now it's time to conjure images and feelings from flat surfaces: off to the drawing board!


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