I first travelled to Japan in July 2003, just a couple of months after I held my exhibition of Geisha paintings at Jackman Gallery in Melbourne. I spent the majority of my time in Kyoto, the ancient capital and traditional home of the Geisha, further exploring my subject matter and feeding both my inspiration and fascination.
I remember seeing my first Geisha, it was quite a breathtaking spectacle. I was strolling along the Kamo Gawa in the early evening when I spotted her on the balcony of one of the elevated restaurants that adorn the banks of the river. I stopped in my tracks, somewhat awe-struck, and observed her for a while, from a distance, as she entertained her business-suit clad gentlemen clients over sushi and copious amounts of sake.
I encountered a couple more of these beauties that evening, my first in Kyoto, and became even more fascinated with the history and culture behind these ladies and their art.
Whilst in Kyoto I did a rather 'touristy' thing, that I prefer to call 'artistic research', and had myself made-up in full Geisha attire. Actually I went through the elaborate process twice, first as a Maiko, (an apprentice Geisha), and a few days later as a Geiko, (Geisha). The whole experience was a curiously intriguing one and until that day I had no idea of some of the intricacies involved.
First you strip down to your underwear and slip into a white smock-like cotton gown and wiggle your feet into the tiny white socks, called tabi, (which are split between the big toe and second toe). Then it's make up time. The hair net goes on first, followed by the porcelain face make up, a little pink around the eyes and on the cheeks, then they paint on the eyebrows with black and pink, add black eye-liner to both top and bottom eyelid, blood red to the lips, and finally a little mascara. Then it's off to pick out one of the superbly crafted silk kimono - as a Maiko I chose emerald green and as a Geiko I decided on black. You are then dressed by two women who pull at all your layers and fasten them so tight that it becomes difficult to breathe. I had no idea that there were two other layers to be wrapped in before you get into the kimono itself, which may I say is insanely heavy for a piece of clothing. The fact that these ladies maintain their elegance under all that weight is incredible. The Obi sash is the last thing to be fitted before the wig, with appropriate 'wig' accessories, completes the ritual. Then you can pose for a series of photographs, and take a few of your own.
The photos that were taken that day ended up becoming studies for a series of self portraits.
The experience certainly heightened my respect and admiration for these women and the painstaking efforts that are put into their appearance night after night.
That day I was the only Westerner being made-over, the other chairs in the make up room were all occupied by Japanese school girls, who, when made-over, looked absolutely stunning. I am sure a few of them wondered what the hell this green eyed Geisha was doing!
Artistic research of course.