Shimpei Matsuzaki

Box with design in irogai and makie. “Lemon tree”

  • Lacquerware
  • Presented in 2015
  • H 13.5 x W 32.5 x D 10.5 cm
  • $9,782

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Category Lacquerware
Year Presented 2015
Dimensions H 13.5 x W 32.5 x D 10.5 cm
Exhibition The 62th Japan Traditional Kōgei Exhibition

Shimpei Matsuzaki

photo Shimpei Matsuzaki

Loosely translated, “urushi” means Japanese lacquer, but in fact urushi is distinct from other kinds of lacquer. Urushi itself is a natural sap that comes from a particular type of tree that grows in East Asia, which in Japanese we call the “urushi no ki,” or “the urushi tree.” I use traditional urushi materials and techniques to make works of art. To make an object using urushi, I start with a wooden body, which is a piece of wood that I carve to the basic shape, for example a box or a bowl. Then, I paint this wood with many coats of urushi. These numerous layers of urushi will make the body of the piece strong. I apply a coat of urushi, I let it harden, then I polish the surface. I repeat this process many times until I have as many layers as needed. Urushi requires a humid environment to cure and harden properly. For that reason, after I apply each layer of urushi, I put the piece on a shelf in my bathroom. The urushi absorbs a little of the moisture so it can harden properly without drying out. A carefuly and properly made piece of urushi is durable enough that is can be used by several generations in a family. I use and teach various techniques for decorating urushi, for example with pieces of shell and other materials. Japan is lucky to have four distinct seasons, and I like to express these in my urushi art. On the surfaces of my urushi pieces, I create pictures of the natural landscape—flower, trees, leaves, oceans, rivers, mountains, wind…. My goal is to portray these using beautiful colors. One ideal material for this is “mother-of-pearl,” which is made from thin pieces of shellfish shell. The color tones from these shell fragments are a perfect match for urushi. The process for using mother-of-pearl is very intricate and time-consuming. First I must shave the shell and polish it very thinly, usually using a machine tool. Then I cut the shell into pieces and set these into the urushi surface to make my pattern. I coat them with more urushi, let it harden, then polish the surface. I repeat this process—coating, hardening, and polishing—until the surface and the picture are perfect. This traditional method is very time consuming, but I think it makes a very nice and beautiful end result!