Art and textiles inspired by Japan: Penny Leaver Green

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You’d be hard pushed to find someone who’s been to Japan and hasn’t been inspired in some way, but for artists working with textiles it has become something of a mecca.

Whether it’s amateur seamstresses moseying around Nippori Fabric Town, each shop heaving with chunky rolls of material and bundles of rainbow ribbons; an army of quilters making the pilgrimage to the world’s largest quilting convention; or embroidery enthusiasts enamoured by the art of nuido, an ancient form of Japanese embroidery.

From her first trip to Japan 15 years ago, textiles artist Penny Leaver Green has repeatedly drawn inspiration from her experiences in Japan to inform her work. We caught up with her to find out what it is about the country that captivates her creativity.

I am a textile artist who works with fabrics, ideas and words. Over the past 15 years I have travelled to Japan a few times and it has become a continual inspiration.

I find it difficult to pin point why – it is an amalgamation of aesthetic wonder at art and design, landscape gardening, food, architecture and fashion; an appreciation of the cultural priorities of respect, order, balance and harmony and a delight in ‘other’ from the ergonomic and beautiful to the quirky and unexpected.

Over time I have made work which is an emotional response to Japan on a number of levels. The 2011 tsunami inspired this piece, exhibited at the Royal West of England Art Academy in the same year the tsunami hit and now on my sitting room wall.

A piece of work I was commissioned to make about organ donation, now in Southmead Hospital in Bristol, was inspired by a trip made to Kyoto and Tokyo during sakura (cherry blossom).

The experience was extraordinary – nature and culture celebrating the beauty, fragility and transience of life. For me this conceit reflected perfectly the nature of the gift of life through organ donation, and so became the aesthetic thread of the commission. The final piece, entitles A Few Words is a silk cherry blossom branch made from words of those who received organs or those whose family agreed for organs to be donated.

Most recently, I made a series of abstract postcard pieces based on colour combination memories of moments I have had on a variety of trips to Japan. All made from vintage kimono silk in 3D with colour dots and a stitched line identifying a place and moment.

From watching late night salary men cross the road in Akasaka, to staying at the hugely glamorous Benesse House hotel in Naoshima; from numerous changing horizons viewed from the shinkansen to harrowing exhibits at the Peace museum in Hiroshima.

Each picture is an attempt to distil a moment into a colour driven emotional response.

In tandem with this exhibition, I made a number of larger pictures which extended the idea of place and memory– for example a representation of a tea garden in the centre of Tokyo,

…the experience of travelling in a cable car over Hakone sulphur mines…

and memories of landscapes:

The whole series was brought together on a colour combination dress, made from a piece of silk printed using colours from photographs I had taken of traditional Japanese colours that were extracted from minerals in a museum in Hakone.

I know I will go back to Japan, there are so many more places I want to visit and experiences I look forward to. My hope is that I can next visit in autumn or winter to renew my relationship with this inspirational country.

See more of Penny’s work here.

We have some very keen material mavericks on the InsideJapan team who would be more than happy to help you plan your textile-tastic trip. Get in touch, or take inspiration from Claire, our in-house seamstress.

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