Silhouette ’12, Lacquer Sculptures by Murata Yoshihiko / Keiko Gallery, Boston, USA April 7 – May 7, 2012
Artist Reception: April 7, 3 — 6 pm.
From its beginning, Keiko Gallery has been committed to introducing contemporary Japanese lacquer art to the American public. We are pleased to announce the first solo exhibition by a gifted young lacquer artist, MURATA Yoshihiko, whose work relies heavily on the external play of light and shadow. His recent lyrical Silhouette focus on anthropomorphic forms whose lines twist and turn, swell and fade, like the sounds from a musical instrument. Simple, exquisite and profound, they share much in common with the brief poetic form, haiku.
Among the increasing number of well trained and gifted young Japanese lacquer artists, each of whose work is idiosyncratic, Murata Yoshihiko’s work relies distinctively on the external play of light that creates silhouettes which extend his forms and flow indistinguishably from the sculptural pieces themselves into their shadows.
Like his slender anthropomorphic forms, his occasional use of the contrasting brilliance of raden (mother-of-pearl) reflects his early fascination with the elaborate hair ornaments (kanzashi) once worn by oiran,* the high ranking goddesses of Japan’s traditional entertainment world. When he was a student in lacquer at Kanazawa College of Art — a city once famous for its entertainment quarter — he first discovered images of these courtesans whose extravagant attire and richly ornamented hair styles had captured the imaginations of most artists of Ukiyoe, the paintings and wood block prints featuring the demimonde of the Floating World. In studying these images he realized that many of the hair ornaments suggested creature-like aspects. This resulted in his exploration of small sculptures that evoked creatures of the wild.
Murata currently lives in the rural part of Japan’s Toyama Prefecture which is famous for its natural beauty and a wide variety of wild life. His encounters with the animals continually inspires his recent sculpted silhouettes.
Ceramics Now Magazine: Not many people know that lacquer is used to make art pieces. Can you tell us more about this material and how do you use it?
Fujita Toshiaki: The Urushi tree (Rhus Vernicifera) is a member of the sumac family of trees, found in various parts of Asia. The trees produce the sap which has been used as the coating and the adhesive material in Japan more than 9000 years. A poisonous substance when in liquid form (causing skin irritation), it becomes non-toxic on hardening and is waterproof and acid-proof. There are some examples that Native American use the sap of sumac, poison ivy or oak with the same purposes.
The season for harvesting sap is from June to October, and an Urushi tree must be between 8 to 13 years old before it is mature enough to produce only one cup of sap. The sap, an opaque light brown color, oozes from the slashes on the trunk, and it’s carefully scraped with a special tool; after this procces the sap is called Arami-Urushi. The Sap is stirred and carefully heated to equalize its components and remove excess fluid. Those Urushi is called Sugurome-Urushi or Kijiro-Urushi and used as the coating material for the upper layers.
The drying system of Urushi is very different from other painting materials. Drying Urushi means to be harden. The laccase enzyme reacts in Urusiol which is hardening constituent and initiates a chemical reaction: oxidation polymerization. To increase the activity of the chemical reaction, the ideal temperature is 77F and the moisture set to 80%. That means if the air is too dry, the lacquer never gets dry.
I focused on this characteristic drying system on Urushi and pursued to create the sculptures called layered forms. I daringly remove other elements in Urushi crafts, because they might interrupt my essential concept for my layered form series. However to understand what is lacquer or lacquer art, I should not deal with only unusual dying systems of Urushi, but also should focus on the traditional techniques, because sometimes we can find the answer in the techniques which were sophisticated and established by our forefathers. For the reason, I worked hard to acquire techniques like woodwork, dry-lacquer, colorings, coatings and decorations.
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Ceramics Now Magazine: You are a very young and talented artist. What was your first experience with art and with lacquer?
Murata Yoshihiko: I wasn’t exposed to the arts that much and didn’t know about Japanese lacquer work very well until I entered the art collage. I was interested in design and woodwork working and wanted to make the furniture for our daily life when I was a teenager. When I was a sophomore student, I choose the Urushi department for my major, but it was something uncomfortable for me. At first, I made many chaotic pieces, however those pieces are supposed to be an origin of my work today.
Silhouette-02, 2010, Maple wood, lacquer, 8” x 2 3/4” x 1 1/2” - View his works
Your works have an extraordinary sense of space and light, their shadows contrasting with the colors and the surroundings. How do you make these fantastic lines of dark? It has to do with the slim silhouettes of your works.
I simulate the three dimensional shapes in my mind, for example, how lines will be flowing or how they are placed on the pedestals or attached on the walls. I believe that only lines which look beautiful from any angles can make the lithe and sharp silhouette.