Jun 11, 2019

quilted 'Pop Art' by a Japanese-born artist

Ai Kijima. "A Groovy Valentine. " 2006. 
In this quiet, classic Brooklyn street filled with hundred-year old Brownstones, lives an artist whose work is super modern, colorful, unconventional and very alluring.

Ai Kijima was born in Tokyo and came to the U.S. during her high school years as an exchange student. In fact, she credits one of her high school teachers, at a small town in Wisconsin, for pushing her toward a life in art.

That one push from a teacher has set her on a fine art career where she has had numerous museum exhibitions and solo shows. She also has art gallery representation to help sell her work. Private collectors and public museums own her work as well.

Recently, I was commissioned to write an article for Art Quilt Quarterly on the collection of studio art quilts at the Racine Art Museum, in Racine, Wisconsin. During my research and interview with the curator, I was introduced to Ai's work. I was immediately captivated and reached out to her to learn more. My husband and I travel frequently to New York to visit our daughter and Ai invited me to her Brooklyn studio for a visit!

While Ai has built an excellent following in the fine art world, she is not as well known in the quilt world.

Her incredibly innovative art is definitely rooted in quilting techniques. Ai uses all types of commercial novelty fabric and she cuts it up, fuses it to a base, adds batting (sometimes) and quilts the layers on a small, older-model Bernina sewing machine.

Her fabrics come from bed sheets, children's sleeping bags, pillow cases, shower curtains, toys, whatever she can find that looks interesting and has the colorful printed images she is seeking. There are sweet children's cartoon characters next to sexy illustrated women and Japanese anime and manga characters.

Ai takes these printed characters, toys and graphics and cuts them out. Each is carefully fused  on to a base to form a compelling and stunning original collage. She creates artful line and order out of seeming chaos. Her collages pull the eye in and keep it moving from one unexpected image to the next. In some cases, hundreds of images fill her canvas, each meticulously placed.

Her Pop Art series is by far the most innovative of her work. She conjures ideas from the 1960's pop art movement, including imagery that is ghostly reminiscent of the infamous 'POW' cartoon fist in her work, sometimes with a literal fist and sometimes with no fist at all. 

Ai Kijima. "Odyssey." 2012.
Artist Ai Kijima talks about one of her art quilts with author and researcher Teresa Duryea Wong.
Ai Kijima - detail.

This amazing wall hanging is made with textiles from Turkey that Ai has collected over the years. It is a beautiful juxtaposition of hard and soft angles, crazy prints, and unusual shapes for an eye-popping result.

In the photo above, Ai is explaining one of her first attempts at this type fused and stitched collage. Her color palette in this first one is a bit softer, the imagery is sweet. Over time her style has morphed to bolder and stronger colors.

Author and Researcher Teresa Duryea Wong and Artist Ai Kijima. Brooklyn, June, 2019.

It was such a thrill to meet Ai and see her work in person. I was inspired by her innovative techniques and her fearlessness in expressing such bold work --- and and I love that she is doing all this in the quilted form.

I hope that somehow I can help bring her work to more people in the quilt community, so stay tuned for more on that. In the meantime, the Art Quilt Quarterly article on the Racine Art Museum (which owns one of Ai's pieces) will be published this fall.

You can see more of Ai Kijima's work on her website.

She is also on Instagram @aikijima

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Thank you for showcasing this amazing fiber artist. I love that she boldly ignores all of the rules. She expresses herself with her own style, uses any fabrics, an simple sewing machine, and joy in her work. I am so inspired!