For Asia Week in New York, Ippodo Gallery is introducing Jihei Murase, a craftsman whose incredible urushi lacquer objects have my head spinning. I really never thought I would fall for lacquerware objects, but it just comes to show that if it’s exceptionally well made and finished to perfection, that even a traditional craft can sway this modern sybarite.
Mostly used in a Japanese tea ceremony (but we in the West can certainly use them as tiny, precious sculptures to adorn a credenza, bookshelf or side table), the superb urushi lacquer objects Murase creates are simply divine.
The artist starts by using a lathe to turn the wood and produce an almost paper thin body. He then uses urushi, the natural sap from the lacquer tree, to coat the vessels. What makes it especially difficult to obtain (and therefore uber expensive!) is that only about 1 cup of sap can be extracted from a mature tree per year! Urushi is also extremely durable so while we may see, for example, 17th century objects that are rightfully cracked given their age, it is completely normal to find urushi lacquer objects in mint condition after 500 years.
It is said that Marie-Antoinette’s most coveted and precious collection was of “Japaned” objets – now known to be pieces of Japanese urushi lacquer. And rightly so. Holding one of these elegant vessels is like holding something as precious as a Faberge object. You just want to protect it.
I invite you to also take a look at the very different but equally masterful urushi lacquer pieces of Japanese artist Yamamura Shinya which I wrote about last summer.
richard rabel: interiors + art
interior design and art advising
new york city
image credits: Ippodo Gallery, Tokyo and New York. Ippodo Gallery New York is open by appointment only.