Junichi Arai is one of the world’s foremost innovators in textile design. He was born in Kiryu, Japan, an important center for textile production with over 1,000 years of silk-making tradition. As the sixth generation of a mill-owning family, Arai learned at an early age the customary Japanese weaving techniques for obis and kimonos. However, Arai began to demonstrate an eagerness to explore the possibilities of the medium using modern technology and materials. As his longtime colleague, Reiko Sudo wrote in her exhibition catalogue accompanying Hand and Technology: Textiles by Junichi Arai 1992, “He is truly the enfant terrible of Japanese textiles, delighting in snubbing convention, a naughty boy playing with ultra-high-tech toys.”[1] In 1984 he co-founded Nuno, a company and retailer wholly devoted to textiles – combining ancient practices with new processes in experimental and unexpected ways.

Big Wave 2  is plain woven with nylon and polyester, synthetic materials that allow for a myriad of exciting opportunities for textile design. Arai humanizes the piece by his use of the shibori technique, a process that consists of tying, twisting, folding, and squeezing the fabric before dying. While shibori has existed in Japan for centuries, here Arai uses it to create a bleeding effect, transforming the cloth into an organic and sculptural three-dimensional form. The name Big Wave refers to the undulating purple wave that surges and swells across the fabric, like the sea along the shoreline. Soft, shimmering silver and deep amethyst tones are both alien and earthly, alive and dream-like. While the textile demonstrates Arai’s respect for Japanese traditions of the past, it also embodies his spirited proclivity for unbridled experimentation.

[1] Reiko Sudo, in Arai, Hand and Technology: Textiles by Junichi Arai; quoted in http://fashionencyclopedia.com/A-Az/Arai-Junichi.html (dated 2011; last accessed September 24, 2014).

 

Jacqueline Sullivan is studying the History of Decorative Arts & Design at Cooper-Hewitt / Parsons. She is a Master’s Fellow in the Textile Department. 

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