The world of flower and willow

FREMANTLE artist Julie Podstolski and sculptor Robyn Varpins’ fascination with Japan’s rapidly disappearing geisha is set to go on display at Earlywork Gallery in South Fremantle.

Fascination: Maiko, Geiko, Kyoto investigates the mysterious, secretive and evocative world of Kyoto’s “flower and willow world”.

Varpins’ sculptures will add 3D to the exhibition of Podstolski’s drawings, with a series of beautifully posed clay figures.

Thirteen trips to Japan over seven years fuelled Podstolski’s obsession for the world of the geiko.

• Julie Podstolski and Robyn Varpins. Photo by Jenny D’Anger

• Julie Podstolski and Robyn Varpins. Photo by Jenny D’Anger


She would “hang out” on Kyoto streets camera at the ready, but at all times discrete.

“It’s important to be polite and unobtrusive…rude tourists with cameras are the curse of these women’s lives.”

The word geisha isn’t widely used in Kyoto: “Its almost rude and was brought in by the American GI’s post war,” Podstolski says.

Geiko is the correct term, and maiko is the apprentice: “These days they are 16 to 21 years old. [Prewar] they were six.”

Anyone who thinks colouring with pencils is for kids can think again; after years of painting in oils Podstolski turned to coloured pencils in 1994.


Unlike oils, pencils could be picked up and put down in a moment, and with a baby to care for was just what she needed.

“I discovered that I loved to work in coloured pencils. I enjoyed the process…more than oils.

The result is soft luminosity that suits the shadowy world of maiko and geiko, with images of women clad in beautiful robes that haven’t changed in hundreds of years – set against the background of modern Japan.

Varpins, who teaches at the Fremantle Art Centre, leaves her clay figures unglazed:  “To convey the interior experience of being human.”

Her figures reveal subtle differences in the costume of the maiko and geiko, the length of the obi and hair style denoting novice from artisan.

Fascination, Maiko, Geiko, Kyoto is at Earlywork Gallery, 330 South Terrace, South Fremantle from September 17 to October 2.



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