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Brief Published: 9 Apr 2019

Exhibition: The Language of Japanese Colour Combinations

Living Colours: Kasane – the Language of Japanese Colour Com

A new London exhibition explores the rich intricacies of colour in Japan – achieved using age-old natural dyeing techniques – with a series of meticulously considered colour installations.  

Titled Living Colours: Kasane – The Language of Japanese Colour Combinations, the show focuses on the work of the Yoshioka Dyeing Workshop. The 200-year-old, family-run business hand-dyes textiles such as silk, hemp and cotton as well as Japanese washi paper using only natural plant-based materials. It also introduces visitors to kasane – the ancient concept of layering colours. 

Ceiling-height lengths of silk are layered in harmonious colour combinations to create the immersive experience. Visitors are led through the changing seasons of Japan, with each combination expressing a particular aspect of the natural world.

The colours of spring reflect Japanese tree blossoms, with varying shades of red and pink achieved using sappanwood and safflower dyes. Summer combinations feature purples inspired by wisteria blooms and iris flowers, dyed using shikon root; while the colours of autumn represent fallen leaves in a range of gradual red and russet tones, created with madder dye. Winter groupings include a selection of greys and tinted whites for ice and snow.

The hues on display are often unexpectedly vivid. So while demonstrating a sophisticated sensitivity to the complexities of colour, the exhibition also showcases the potential of eco alternatives to toxic, synthetic dyes. For more on natural colours and dyes, read Considered Colour and Dyeing with Bacteria.

See Living Colours at Japan House until May 19.