Informed by the advanced lacquer techniques of the Edo period, the works of artist "UNRYUAN" re-express this historic art form in today's terms. With international recognition following on the heels of a breakthrough 2002 exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in England, UNRYUAN's works are now highly sought after by collectors of Japanese art all over the world.
Lacquer artist KITAMURA Tatsuo's elevated aesthetic sense and insatiable spirit of inquiry have given birth to a creative process that requires a long period of time. It is also said to involve many failures along the way. However, through constant refinement in order to remain faithful to his initial vision and without compromising any detail in his search for the method he deems to be most optimal, he is able to produce works that astound viewers with their sheer beauty and detail.
UNRYUAN is not simply imitating traditional techniques of Japanese lacquer; rather he is contributing to the continued evolution of the art form. By holding this exhibition, his first in Japan in many years, the full aspect of his commitment to this endeavor will become clear. Also displayed at this exhibition are works from the young artist group "Kiryusha", which has inherited UNRYUAN's technique through engagement in his process of creation.
We hope you take this opportunity to view this unmatched lacquer work technique that has stimulated the senses and piqued the curiosity of the world.
I am honored at the opportunity given me by Daimaru Matsuzakaya Department Stores to hold the “UNRYUAN-Who is it? Beauty in the Details of Lacquering: Overview of the Transcendental Craftsmanship of UNRYUAN and KIRYUSHA” traveling exhibition in Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya.
I held my first exhibition in Japan in 1996, at the Nomura Art Museum in Kyoto. At the time, the late Akio Haino (then director of craft department at the Kyoto National Museum) had contributed a catalog outlining exhibited works titled UNRYUAN to wa Nanimono zo! (UNRYUAN-Who is it?). I remember it like it was yesterday: Haino asked me if it was okay to use such an irreverent tone in his title, and my reply was, “Yes, of course!”
I became fascinated with classic maki-e art (wherein Japanese lacquer ware is sprinkled with gold or silver powder) in 1988 when I first laid eyes on the Hatsune set of furnishings.national treasures kept as part of the Tokugawa Art Museum’s permanent collection. This set of pieces was made during the early Edo Period (early 17th century) by Koami Choju, the tenth in the Koami family line and a maki-e artist serving the Tokugawa (Japan’s de facto ruling family at the time). It is said that the artist made these beautiful pieces in just under three years. When first I saw the Hatsune set, I was filled with a strong desire to do something similar with my own two hands.
Unfortunately, many of the sophisticated techniques used during the Edo Period to produce such magnificent lacquer ware had been forgotten, lost over time. By elucidating the techniques of maki-e predecessors through careful scrutiny and restoration of works by well-known artists, I began to produce my own pieces. This inspiration also made possible the accomplishment of the 2015 group project, a 46-person collaborative effort to create a set of Kiku maki-e Kaioke (Chrysanthemum-motif maki-e vessels for Kaiawase).
I am overjoyed at this opportunity to display my new works in multiple venues along with those of the other members of KIRYUSHA, with whom I share similar ambitions. Although I feel my contributions to the group are still wanting, and I have only just joined KIRYUSHA in their lacquer work research and creation efforts, I will continue my ceaseless trial-and-error pursuits toward an indeterminate final goal. As we pursue our work in the field lacquer ware, one of Japanese culture’s most impressive accomplishments, we will adhere to traditional principles, polish our techniques and remain deeply passionate as we strive to restore lacquer art to its former glory so that its magnificence will shine even today.
It is our hope that you will come and view the current state of our efforts for yourself, and honor us with your praise, frank criticism and encouragement. In closing, allow me to express my gratitude to Daimaru Matsuzakaya Department Stores and others whose thoroughgoing cooperation and support have made this exhibition series possible. We are in your debt.
UNRYUAN KITAMURA Tatsuo