29 February – 17 March 2012


Kubota Fumikazu

Kubota Fumikazu’s dreamlike and intricate works explore and confront different aspects of the human psyche. Each tiny shape is a representation of the subjects’ possible drives and desires. His work serves as an investigation of connection and relationship – the links that bind and separate humanity, and the objects and spaces that make up our environment.


The incomprehensibility of society is the incomprehensibility of the individual.1

The abstract compositions of Fumikazu Kubota require gentle interrogation. Upon our first meeting, Kubota handed me a novel by Osamu Dazai to help piece together the clues. A Japanese equivalent to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1903), Dazai’s No Longer Human (1948) traces the desperate and pitiable life of Oba Yozo, a social outcast who has a dread of other human beings. In charting the emotional terrain of Yozo, Dazai speaks of ‘cathedrals of melancholy’.2 This illuminating reference encapsulated what Kubota had been describing to me as the basis for his works.

Kubota frequently referred to ‘darkness’ when describing the mysterious floating architectural masses that feature in works such as Non-Verbal (2011). By darkness Kubota wasn’t referring to the black line-work, but rather the darker elements of the human condition, the subterranean, the unconscious and ennui. In his intricately detailed work, laboriously created with archival pen, these darker human emotions, or states of being, reveal themselves through ‘ornate complex patterns’,3 executed with grace and precision.

Where I had seen the delicate and confounding amalgamation of various architectural and stylistic influences such as Byzantine, Victorian, Art Deco, Aztec and Celtic styles ‘gloriously evoking dormant fantastical cities waiting to be reawakened,’ Kubota was referencing self-analysis, human consciousness, and giving a ‘shape’ to human emotions, most specifically, despair. He was open to my interpretation however, and conceded a love for the old buildings dotting the streets of Melbourne.

Our different responses to the work were not necessarily incongruous. The difficulty one might have in penetrating another’s inner life is analogous to seeking knowledge of a culture or era that no longer exists; both, for instance, may be unreadable or ‘incomprehensible’.

If we were to map the human psyche, what would we see? Would it be similar to an architectural blueprint for a civilised world, resembling machinery and order? Kubota’s depiction of the architecture of emotions appears built upon the physical universe, a world that is circuitous, imposing, and made heavy by the weight of accumulated melancholy.

When Kubota articulates the meaning of his work he describes emotional turmoil, and yet the works themselves are contained, delicate and far from tumultuous in their energy. Although complicated, they exude a stylistic framework that is constrictive and restrained. Kubota explains works such as Non-Verbal as presenting the design of large ‘ships’, which map the layers of the human psyche and are repositories for human emotion. Notably, these ‘ships’ are isolated, not pictured in relationship to other ships.4 And yet, although they are static, there is a sense of movement, evolution and circulation, even progress, within the mysterious network of lines and patterns. These exquisite vessels imply industrialisation: a metropolis, urban design, metro systems or the hidden plumbing of a building. They are the hallmark of a civilization where desire for order is paramount. Suggestive of pendentives, towers and domes, they call to mind Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, where demarcations of physicality can evoke the inner life.5

In Non-Verbal, floating within white space is an allusive, yet rigid structure, endowed with a sense of alienation but also honoured through the beautifully intricate framing device of patterned borders. The ‘ship’ grows in multiple directions within the borders so that effectively there could be no right or wrong way to hang the artwork; it appears unified and complete.

In other works, Kubota investigates the square and the rectangle through design-motifs that evoke spatial illusion. Employing repetitive patterning these are, according to the artist, meditations on the Buddhist concept of Hell whereby the square symbolises the physical world and the repetitive use of lines or dots embodies human suffering, suggestive of a mundane existence. Despite this, and similarly to Buddhist Mandalas, Kubota’s works evoke an ordered beauty.

Kubota’s methodology involves developing small sketches in pencil and then projecting these onto an overhead projector to execute the work on a larger scale with a slow and steady hand. The artist’s meticulous and illustrative style is reminiscent of Japanese woodblock printing. It may be Kubota’s own abstract yet dystopian interpretation of Ukiyo-‘floating world’s’ as encapsulated in works from the 17th to the 20th century. In terms of subject matter, this acclaimed genre transcended everyday hardships in favour of images that were pleasant and heart-warming. Yet Kubota’s offering while equally charming and a vestige to traditional design-work, is by far more cryptic in meaning.

Moving beyond the strictly ornamental, Kubota’s practice symbolises a subjective emotional and deeply personal life. Yet this is not readily clear to the viewer. It is only through speaking with the artist directly that this reading of the work is made apparent. To most, the origins of these vessels are unknown and unknowable. Kubota uses his artwork to excavate his emotions and reveal shadows of his conscious and unconscious mind. The incomprehensibility of his works reflects his experience of an incomprehensible culture. He notes, ‘these symbols represent the last ten years of my mind.’ They are an evocation of ‘personal weakness and darkness’. It seems these nuances of feeling isolated, are reflected in Kubota’s artwork through giving the floating structures a solitary and self-contained presence. Sometimes though, form spills out from the contained structures. With the appearance of a knotted mass, these tangled networks secede and are not to be contained.

Kubota’s works express through a mechanical and astute technique the deeper layers of the psyche. But piecing together the various layers hidden within the work will likely be for some, an insuperable task. However, this needn’t mean that the works will be less affecting aesthetically, as they exist as masterfully crafted abstractions of elegant proportions.

– Claire Anna Watson

Claire Anna Watson is a Melbourne-based artist, writer and curator.

1 Osamu Dazai. No Longer Human. Trans. D. Keene. New York: New Directions Books, 1958, p.125.
2 Dazai. op.cit. p.47.
3 Fumikazu Kubota. Artist Statement. November 2011.
4 The artist says, ‘On these transport ships, various emotions combine with new emotions creating an even more convoluted state of mind.’ Fumikazu Kubota. Artist Statement. November 2011.
5 An example of this is Calvino’s description of Raissa: ‘Also in Raissa, city of sadness, there runs an invisible thread that binds one living being to another for a moment, then unravels, then is stretched again between moving points as it draws new and rapid patterns so that at every second the unhappy city contains a happy city unaware of its own existence.’ Italo Calvino. Invisible Cities. Trans. W. Weaver. Florida: Harcourt Inc., 1974, p.149.
6 Emailed interview with the artist. 7 February 2012.