Bamboo basketwork: a contemporary Japanese art form

image modern twist sonoma

We took a trip to Sonoma back in April, to see this fabulous exhibition of contemporary bamboo artworks. The exhibit has been on tour in several locations and showcases the work of 17 Japanese bamboo artists, drawn from the Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

We received a very warm welcome from the museum volunteer, who introduced the exhibit and reminded us of the significance of bamboo in Japanese and other East Asian cultures.

As you can see, some pieces have strong geometric qualities, such as Sun and Squares and Circles by Tanabe Chikuunsai III (b.1940). Others exploit the visual properties of the material, with a shimmering moire-type effect on pieces such as Gentle Heart by Fujinuma Noboru (b.1945), or Pattern of Wind by Uematsu Chikuyu (b.1947) – inspired by the ridged pattern that the wind creates when it blows across sand.

Such allusions to the natural world are frequent: the wind, hot air, the sun, the moon. All in all, this show really opened my eyes to the sheer range of colour, shape and space that can be conjured up from this one material.

Modern Twist: Contemporary Japanese Bamboo Art
Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, Sonoma, CA
19 March to 12 June 2016 (now closed)

Above: Main section of the Modern Twist exhibit at Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, seen April 2016. Photo: JF.

Below: Tanabe Chikuunsai III (b.1940), Sun, “Yo”, 1980. Bamboo (yadake and madake), rattan, lacquer. Photo: JF.

image tanabe chikuunsai iii sun

Below: Tanabe Chikuunsai III, Squares and Circles, “Hoen”, 2005. Bamboo (yadake), rattan, lacquer. Photo: JF.

image tanabe chikuunsai iii squares and circles

Below: Fujinuma Noboru (b.1945), Gentle Heart, “Yushin”, 2006. Bamboo (madake), rattan. Photo: JF.

image fujinuma noboru gentle heart

Below: Tanioka Shigeo (b.1949), Asuka, 2002. Fruit basket. Bamboo (susudake), Japanese horse chestnut wood (tochinoki), lacquer. Photo: JF.

image tanioka shigeo asuka

Below: Tanioka Shigeo, Shimmering of Hot Air, “Itoyu”, 1999. Bamboo (hobichiku), rattan, lacquer. Photo: JF.

image tanioka shigeo shimmering of hot air

Below: Uematsu Chikuyu (b.1947), Pattern of Wind, “Fumon”, 2002. Bamboo (kurochiku), wood. Photo: JF.

image uematsu chikuyu pattern of wind

 

 

Black and white and nacreous all over: Korean mother-of-pearl lacquerware

image lacquer box
An exhibition of Korean mother-of-pearl lacquerware, on view at the Asian Art Museum, is one of those small but precious shows that invites you to delve deep into one particular subject.  A selection of 25 pieces, crafted between the 1600s and the 1900s, showcases the exceptional skills of Korean artisans in this field, and the wide variety of objects that were decorated in this way.

A rectangular box features a design of peonies, configured in rhythmic, curving lines. The peony was a common motif on mother-of-pearl lacquerware, signifying fortune and prosperity.  However, in this case the technique used is especially demanding, with the tendrils made from mother-of-pearl instead of wires. This involves preparing a very thin sheet of mother-of-pearl, from which long thin strips are cut with a special saw, and then applied to the surface.

A more pictorial design is found on a table, decorated with a bird on a plum branch, the plum being one of the “Three Friends of Winter” (plum, pine and bamboo) that stood for the virtues of the literati, especially in the face of hardship.  Very thin strips of mother-of-pearl have been used to create the individual bamboo leaves and pine needles.

Plum blossoms make another appearance on a lobed round dish, the lacquer applied this time not over wood but over paper, thickly layered. Korean paper was much sought after, in China as well as Korea, and its use here shows how versatile it could be. Both this dish and the table with the bird and trees were newly acquired in 2016.

These few examples illustrate some of the beauty and variety on offer. They are complemented by useful displays that explain the technical steps involved, and a short video that covers the same steps in more detail. Recommended.

Mother-of-Pearl Lacquerware from Korea
Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, CA
29 April to 23 October 2016

Above: Box with peony motif. 1550-1650. Joseon dynasty (1392-1910). Lacquered wood with inlaid mother-of-pearl. Height 14cm; width 38.1cm; depth 30.8cm. Asian Art Museum, San Francisco. Photo: SF.

Below: Table with bird and trees motif. 1700-1800. Joseon dynasty (1392-1910). Lacquered wood with inlaid mother-of-pearl. Height 11cm; width 49.1cm; depth 26cm. Asian Art Museum, San Francisco. Photo: SF.

image lacquer table v2

Below: Dish with moon and plum blossoms motif. 1800-1900. Joseon dynasty (1392-1910). Lacquered paper with inlaid mother-of-pearl. Diameter 27cm. Asian Art Museum, San Francisco. Photo: SF.

image lacquer dish v2

Talks on kimono design and Japanese lacquer

yuzen kimono

As part of Asian Art in London, the RCA hosted presentations by two outstanding practitioners of Japanese traditional arts, Moriguchi Kunihiko and Murose Kazumi, both Japanese Living National Treasures.  Moriguchi designs yuzen textiles, using a resist-dyeing technique that became popular in the 17th century.  He is identified particularly with geometric patterns that change subtly from one end of the design to the other.  A video was shown that traced the development of a single piece, a stunning kimono with triangles of onyx black, white and yellow.  Murose produces maki-e (“sprinkled picture”) lacquer pieces of all kinds, ranging in size from tiny boxes to a frieze for a railway station, 1.5m high and 4m long.  His illuminating talk explored the origins and properties of urushi (the basic lacquer substance) and the different steps in maki-e technique: an exquisite box with a design of foliage and flowers took six months to complete.

Presentations by Japanese Living National Treasures
Royal College of Art, London
1 November 2013

The presentations accompany the exhibition Four Living National Treasures of Japan at The Fine Art Society.

Above: Formal kimono by Moriguchi Kunihiko, 2012. Yuzen dyed silk. Image: Nihon Kogeikai at: http://www.nihon-kogeikai.com/KOGEITEN/KOGEITEN-059/KOGEITEN-059-00292-E.html.