Japanese textile designer
Born: Kiryu City, Gunma Prefecture, 13 March 1932. Education: Trained in weaving at his father's textile factory, 1950-55; also studied at the Theater Arts Institute, Tokyo, 1953. Family: Married Riko Tanagawa, 1958; children: Motomi, Mari. Career: formed Tomodachi Za puppet theater group, 1950; independent textile designer in Tokyo, from 1955; developed new metallic yarn techniques, 1955-66; worked with fashion designers Rei Kawakubo, Issey Miyake, Shin Hosokawa, and others, from 1970; produced computer-designed woven fabrics, from 1979; founded Anthology studio, 1979, and Arai Creation System company, 1987; opened Nuno fabrics shop, Tokyo, 1984; advisor, Yuki Tsumugi Producers Assn., Japanese Ministry of Trade, and International Wool Secretariat, from 1987; teaches at Otsuka Textile Design Institute. Exhibitions: Gen Gallery, Tokyo, 1983; Nichifutsu Gallery, Kyoto, 1984; Sagacho Exhibition Space, Tokyo, 1984; Shimin Gallery, Sapporo, 1985; Axis Gallery, Tokyo, 1986; Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, 1988; Hand and Technology: Textiles by Junichi Arai 1992, Yurakucho Asashi Gallery, Asashi, Japan; Pacific Art Center, Los Angeles, 1993; Junichi: Glistening Fabrics, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Missouri, 1997. Awards: Mainichi Fashion award, Tokyo, 1983; Honorary Royal Designer for Industry, London, 1987. Address: Shinsyuku Kiryu-city, Gunma-pref 376, Japan.
"Nuno Choryu," in Ginka Bunka Shuppan, No. 63, 1985.
Tulokas, Maria, ed., Fabrics for the 1980s (exhibition catalogue), Providence, RI, 1985.
Sutton, Ann, and Diane Saheenan, Ideas in Weaving, Loveland, CO, and London, 1989.
Arai, Junichi, et al., Hand and Technology: Textiles by Junichi Arai 1992 (exhibition catalogue), Asashi, Japan, 1992.
Tulokas, Maria, "Textiles for the Eighties," in Textilforum (Hanover, Germany), September 1985.
Cannarella, D., "Fabric About Fabric," in Threads (Newtown, CT), November 1985.
Popham, P., "Man of Cloth," in Blueprint (London), December/January 1987-88.
Tulokas, Maria, "Textiles by Junichi Arai, 1979-1988," in Textilforum (Hanover, Germany), June 1989.
"Junichi Arai," in the New York Times, 16 April 1990.
MacIsaac, Heather Smith, "Arai Arrives: Japanese Textile Designer Junichi Arai Makes His American Debut," in House & Garden, August 1990.
"Junichi Arai and Reiko Sudo," in Design Journal, No. 42, 1991.
Livingston, David, "Junichi Arai's Creations Provoke, Mystify," in the Toronto Globe and Mail, 16 January 1992.
Pollock, Naomi R., "Dream Weavers," in Metropolis, September 1992.
Louie, Elaine, "A Fabric that is Light, in Both Senses," in the New York Times, 25 March 1993.
Self, Dana, "Junichi Arai: Glistening Fabrics," available online at www.Kemperart.org , 17 July 2001.
"Quality Fabric of the Month," available online at Textile Industries, www.textileindustries.com , 18 July 2001.
"Tsunami: Yardage Exhibit," online at www.weavespindye.org , 18July 2001.
Junichi Arai creates the stuff of dreams, fabrics never seen before. His work is a true collaboration: innovators in yarn and slit film production, in computers, and in loom technology are essential partners. But the finished product, the textiles "like stone" or "like clouds" created for Issey Miyake at his suggestion, or the fabrics Arai calls Spider Web, Titanium Poison, and Driving Rain, are pure Arai in inspiration, imagination, and execution. They could only have been created in Japan.
The great-grandson and grandson of spinners, and the son and nephew of weavers, Arai was born and raised in Kiryu, a historic textile center north of Tokyo. Steeped in Japanese textile tradition, he nevertheless dreamed of becoming an actor. Instead, at the age of 18, he began working in his father's factory, weaving obi and kimono cloth, including one that involved the twisting of gold or silver fibers around a core of silk yarn. The family firm also made synthetic and metallic fabrics for the U.S. cocktail dress market. In developing these fabrics, Arai acquired 36 patents. The eight years he spent helping run the business provided him with technical expertise but little satisfaction. It all paved the way, however, for his years of experimentation, teaching him the rules he would later break.
One of Arai's innovations is a burn-out process that dissolves the cotton covering from metallic thread, creating a new type of fabric. He also experimented with "melt-off," in which metal between two layers of lacquer in a slit film yarn is dissolved, producing an unusual, filmy fabric. Among his other creations are a stretchy yarn made of tightly coiled nylon covered by wool and another metallic fabric constructed from slit film polyester/silver yarn used in home furnishings. He has experimented with techniques such as using materials with different rates of shrinkage to create unusual puckers, then pulls in the fabric and transferring dye-embedded paper into wrinkled cloth—creating permanent folds of color.
Longtime colleague Reiko Sudo wrote in the exhibition catalogue for 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." His genius consists of what Milton Sonday of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York termed "pushing the limits" of both new and traditional technology, having the vision to take it one step further, or to combine fibers and technologies in new ways. The digital computer is his drawing board, freeing him to explore design possibilities and select the best ones. With it and the Jacquard loom, Arai hopes someday to create a fabric whose pattern changes as subtly as the days in a lifetime, never exactly repeating. For one exhibition, Arai concentrated on the combination of high technology and handcraft, using two different kinds of warp and weft, woven by the same machine, and limiting himself to two weave structures.
In a review of an Arai exhibit at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1997 Curator Dana Self emphasized Arai's insistence that fabrics must resemble human skin in their flexibility and combinations of earthly elements, while possessing an ability to reshape themselves and retain their original essence. Arai, Self wrote, "merges traditional and nontraditional, simplicity and complexity," and draws on centuries of Japanese textile tradition. According to Self, he also understands that "textiles and clothing reverberate with ideas about how we clothe ourselves, how certain fabrics make us feel physically and emotionally, and how fabrics and clothing function in our culture."
Fashion designers like Miyake, Rei Kawakubo, and Yoshiki Hishinuma, a former Miyake apprentice, are among the collaborators whose imaginations Arai has challenged. Some of his fabrics are suitable for home furnishings; these are sold in Nuno showrooms in Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. End use, however, is not really an Arai concern. In fact, some of his fabrics may only be suitable for museum installations, but that is quite beside the point of his work. Tiny print at the bottom of a hang tag, from a scarf purchased in an Issey Miyake boutique, whispers, "This work is the product of a weaving technology invented by Junichi Arai." As an innovator in weaving technology and the creation of new fabrics, he has no equal; in his work, the future is now.
updated by Sally A.Myers