The soothing rhythm of repetition, the play of light and color, the smoothness of crisp, white paper: these are some of the things that Keiko Kamata loves most about making prints. Her simple shapes, which play on repeating patterns and layers of transparent color, exude lightness and joy.
As a girl, Kamata always wanted to go to art school, but pursued a B.A. in education in Tokyo instead. It wasn’t until she was 22 that she took her first formal art class. One taste of screen printing, a year later, was all she needed to fall in love with the medium. That led her back to school, where she earned an M.F.A. from the University of Hawaii, with a concentration in printmaking.
The Japanese-born artist and mother of two moved here from Hawaii in 2008 when her husband, Eiho Baba, took a job teaching philosophy and Asian studies at Furman University. At her home studio near downtown Greenville, Kamata hand-cuts a limited amount of stencils and repeats the designs, regarding the stencil like a painter would a brush.
She relishes what she calls “the detachment of printmaking,” the fact that she doesn’t paint directly on the paper. “That detachment is similar to the mental distance you get in Japanese painting,” explains Kamata. “In the process of layering colors, you remove yourself from the subject. By the end, the image becomes distilled and there’s a silence to it. And I love that.”
While patterns from Kamata’s childhood became the models for her early prints, these days she finds inspiration in the fleeting designs of nature all around her. “I strive to convey in my images the sense of impermanence and the beauty of the transitory nature of things,” she says. A repetition of geometric shapes in gradations of black and white, for instance, becomes a fragmented image of the sky.
This subtle ambiguity lies at the core of all of Kamata’s work. “I don’t want to dictate the entire impression to my viewers,” admits the artist. “Suggesting is enough. I want the viewer to experience a moment of uncertainty. Being able to sit with uncertainty and accept it is very important to me.”
Kamata turned to fiber when she needed a larger canvas, which she now finds in her recent experiments with wallpaper. “Like a scoop of the ocean,” as she puts it, the details in her prints awaken Kamata’s ideas for digitally illustrated wall patterns (she creates the original design, which is then repeated by computer). She would like to see her wallpaper cheer patients in hospitals some day. “Walls are the biggest unconscious image that surrounds us,” Kamata notes. “So wallpaper can have a big effect on people.” She hopes people will feel lighter when they see her work.
Kamata, who took piano as a child, claims she never appreciated Bach until recently. Now she relates her artistic process to his music. “My images are like overlying melodies,” she clarifies. “There’s a pattern to them, but the variations create the melody. There’s no beginning and no end.”
You can see Keiko Kamata’s prints in Art and Light Gallery in the Village of West Greenville. The gallery will feature a new show of her work from April 6–28. 16 Aiken St, artandlightgallery.com