Visual artist Keiko Kamata never imagined having a studio outside her home. “I didn’t want to be away from my family,” she says. “We just love being home. It’s our favorite thing to do. Everything has its place here.”

Photo by Rebecca Lehde

You would think Kamata and her husband Dr. Eiho Baba, a philosophy and Asian studies professor at Furman University, had designed the modern craftsman to perfectly suit their many needs, but in fact they watched it be built for another artist, who almost immediately sold the North Main home.

The family of four had outgrown their townhouse at the nearby Elements development and knew the timing was right. “The last couple of months I could see myself working bigger but couldn’t, and my art was taking over our living spaces,” remembers Kamata. “My studio was small and I wanted to print bigger, work bigger. I just knew there was a space for me out there.”

Her newly minted studio, fashioned from the home’s finished basement, features glazed concrete floors and is complete with a wet print room converted from a laundry closet. And, it has enabled the printmaker to explore something unexpected: fiber art.

For now, Kamata is working exclusively in linen, crafting large-scale graphic hangings that echo the structure of kimono with a common split pleat. At roughly ten feet across and six feet tall the work is striking in proportion, modern in coloration and decorously approachable.

“I am attracted to artists who are brave enough to express joy,” says Kamata. A Matisse exhibit at MoMA last spring stirred her into action. “I had this moment where I realized it was okay for art to make people happy, and I cried.”

Photo by Rebecca Lehde

She calls the breadth of her studio liberating, with workspaces for both print and fiber projects. Her two children, Yuki and Fuyu (and the family’s cat Millón) wander down to be with Kamata, so it’s not a place for contemplation. The home offers a separate space for that.

Up an exterior staircase and over a screened porch awaits a gallery; a single room, perfectly proportioned and ideally lit. Kamata’s print series, titled Stories, hangs here. It is minimal in beautiful clear hues and full of symbology of mother and children. A leather chaise is its sole furnishing and the framed work is symmetrically hung across two walls.

“I love the arts and crafts straight lines of this house, which tend to look more Asian,” says Kamata. “It suits our style and my work. But to have a gallery and a studio is something more. It has changed everything.”

Working in Two Mediums

Keiko Kamata says it took a decade after earning a Masters in Fine Art (at the University of Hawaii Mānoa) to create without explanation.

She calls printmaking a conceptual medium, one she connects with for its limitations. “It’s so precise. It’s about making a clean border, tight and perfectly aligned. That’s the beauty in it for me. Paper is this crisp thing never touched by the artist’s hand.”

But fabric has afforded Kamata a wholly tactile medium, one where mistakes are allowable and accidents offer opportunity. “Working with fabric nothing is wasted, no step is ever pointless. My work in both areas is better for it. I’m growing in ways I never expected.”

Teresa Roche of Art & Light Gallery in the Village of West Greenville represents Kamata for her limited print series. Wall hangings are available by commission.

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