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Fiber artist Fuyuko Matsubara weaves imaginative, ethereal environment

| Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2009

In the fall of 1984, right after Japanese-born fiber artist Fuyuko Matsubara completed the master of fine arts program in fiber arts at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., she started a large-scale pastel drawing, later titled "In the Earth."

Twenty years later, Matsubara brought the drawing full circle, creating a complex weaving from the original drawing.

The work consists of 12 panels. Each panel contains an image that is compositionally complete and can be viewed as an independent piece. The image of each panel "bleeds" into or connects to adjacent panels. Any combination of adjacent panels can be viewed as one image. When the 12 panels are viewed together, they create a single composition titled "In the Earth."

It's on display now, the signature piece in Matsubara's solo exhibit, "Seeds of Light," at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts in Shadyside. And as viewers will see, the concept behind the arrangements in that piece reflects the artist's view of the elements of the world, as they may be dealt with individually or as groupings.

"What I am trying to express in the pictorial image of 'In the Earth' is 'beings,' life forms, and their environment in the realm of the Earth," Matsubara says of the semi-abstract composition. "The image is representational and imaginative in order to express both visible and invisible dimensions."

Matsubara says the "beings" in her imagery -- rather lifelike looking, organic forms -- are constantly growing in their environment. "The beings and the environment are interactive and interchangeable in terms of their forms because they are made of similar components that are like atoms," she says. "I refer to these components as 'light corpuscles.' The characters in my imagery are overlapped and layered in order to express my idea of the Earth as multidimensional -- both micro and macro cosmic beings are co-residing in my imagery to simulate actual elements that can be found in the Earth."

Matsubara was born in Sapporo, Japan, and studied at Musashino Art University in Tokyo, where she received a bachelor of arts degree in industrial and craft design and a master's degree in product design, prior to attending Cranbrook.

Creating her work involves a tedious process involving dyeing and weaving. Something she calls a "combination of warp painting and weft painting" is internationally recognized as her invention, along with her otherworldly, spiritual imagery.

She has exhibited her work nationally and internationally for more than 30 years and it has appeared in numerous books and magazines such as Fiberarts, Surface Design Journal and American Craft.

She served at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York as a senior restorer and taught fiber and textile art courses in numerous institutions such as Syracuse (N.Y.) University, University of North Texas, and the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Currently, she is teaching at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

Matsubara says of her original warp painting and weft painting technique, "This is one of the most labor-intensive processes one may find in weaving. At first, I weave four sections of white cloth. After painting on them with dyes, the four sections are unwoven for the purpose of exchanging and recombining, and then they are rewoven into two finished weavings."

First, in order to achieve specific and subtle differences of texture and color, Matsubara hand-plies fine yarns of linen, cotton, silk and rayon. "I then weave four pieces of white cloth. Taking the cloth off the loom, I hand-paint on it with fiber-reactive dyes. The image for each of the four pieces is different but is based on one drawing. I vary the colors and shapes from one to the other. After washing the painted cloth, I take it apart and combine the warp from two pieces of cloth with the weft from another two and reweave them into one cloth." She then weaves another one with remaining wefts and warps with a different weave structure, which she calls "a twin."

In order to achieve the overlapping, airy quality of the imagery, Matsubara has to carefully calculate each step. But, she says, "inevitably there is space for some surprises to occur."

The balance of these two different qualities is intriguing. Through the consecutive actions of painting, deconstruction and reconstruction, it's as though one can literally observe the image disintegrate and transform.

"There are two vital aspects of textile/fiber arts that led me to develop this original technique," Matsubara says. "One is the range of possible ways the construction of fibers can carry light and color. The other is the fascinating integration of the arts of weaving and dyeing. The process of this technique also matches the concept of my imagery."

The remaining works on display are from her most recent series of work, "A Phase of Light," in which light represents an energy source from a spiritual view.

"The circles of luminous light emphasize the positive quality of the energy," she says. "The numerous lights begin to suggest their endless and infinite numbers."

In these works, the light exists like air, so common that it's easy to forget its quality as an essential and vital energy source. Yet Matsubara is able to represent that energy in subtle yet luminous ways.

Additional Information:

'Seeds of Light: Fuyuko Matsubara'

When : Through Jan. 24. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; noon-5 p.m. Sundays

Admission : $5; free to Pittsburgh Filmmakers and Pittsburgh Center for the Arts members

Where : Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, 6300 Fifth Ave., Shadyside

Details : 412-361-0873 or Web site

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