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"URUSHI (Japanese wood lacquer)" is a natural paint material that is gathered and refined from URUSHI trees, which can mainly be found in Asia. Since the dawn of history, we commonly used wooden and earthen vessels coated with "URUSHI" until we began to import porcelain from China. The techniques to decorate furniture and tableware are well known as traditional craft works of Japan. Lacquered "URUSHI" has a uniquely pure beautiful shine, profoundly serene colors, gentle warmth of touch and very impressing surface, it is never seen on surface of any other painted objects. Japanese have a particular affection for them and hold them in high esteem due to their unique ability to convey the richness of Japan's cultural heritage.

Construction of URUSHI objects and my works
Generally, according to traditions, URUSHI objects consist of hemp fiber and URUSHI. First of all you prepare an object made of clay, and put the hemp fiber on the clay object to ensure the fiber fits to the clay's surface. And then you soak URUSHI into the fiber. After it's hardened (it takes a few days), you repeat the process until it becomes hard enough to form itself without the inside clay. To paint URUSHI smoothly, you should grind its surface with a grindstone. Every time after hardening painted URUSHI, you polish the surface, and repeatedly do this process until you get smooth and fluent surface.
In contemporary, G.F.R.P. or C.F.R.P. is well known as stiff and light material of productive objects and seen in not only Japan but also everywhere around the world. When you come to think of it, both traditional URUSHI objects mentioned above and modern material like G.F.R.P. or C.F.R.P. have the same essence of their construction. The only difference is the character of them. One has natural character and another has chemical one. The chemical materials make it easier to form the objects than using natural materials, therefore many artists use F.R.P. as a convenient medium when they make URUSHI objects in Japan. But there are social tendency to think it imitative and even contemporary URUHI artists themselves tend to shirk manifesting about the inside material of their objects.
As for me, I had already realized the estrangement between the traditions and the moderns mentioned above when I was a student in the university and have been researching a possibility of the combination of URUSHI techniques, established by traditions and modern material and technology, which is still improving even now. Because URUSHI is not an old-fashioned material but I believe that there is still much possibility in the future.

Research Prospects in UK
Two elements are needed in order for an object to be termed as URUSHI. In other words, it is impossible for something to exist as an URUSHI work in its own right. It must first be coated in URUSHI, itself, merely a liquid material. Thus objects to be painted in URUSHI are as important as URUSHI itself. It is therefore very important what form an object takes and the material from which it is born. Contemporary practicioners of Japanese laquerware have begun to re-examine the elements make up their pieces in order to create works unique to this discipline.

I have been pursuing "Natural Form" by using a tensioned-cotton cloth and rubber sheeting with vacuum pressure to form a smooth and pure surface on which to apply URUSHI fluidly. By this method, I have attempted to emphasize the organic nature of URESHI and its sense of pureness and fluidity when it appears on curvilinear surfaces. I have also been looking at site-specific placement of my work in order to place URUSHI in the context of fine art. Besides using and refining a process that I have developed, I want to research other possibilities in creation of form by using other materials and techniques which are enabled by the use of computers.

With the aid of CAD it is possible to create "Natural Form" largely inconceivable by human mind and hand. Today we have many options in the methods of production and the making of three-dimensional objects. A mechanical molding system enhanced by computer is one useful way of making organic objects with a sense of fluidity in shape.

While exploring the form and fluidity of the object, it is further possible to examine the organic nature of URUSHI through the fluid surface characteristic in laquerware. In addition to natural or liquid form, application of URUSHI gives a strong sense of the organic. The combination of an object formed by the aid of computer and machine with skills of the hand and mind will lead to new futures in URUSHI work.

In addition, I can offer my Japanese lacquering skills as a Japanese applied artist to people in the university, and URUSHI's uniquely character must influence upon applied art in UK. I believe that it is going to be an intellectual stimulus for each other.

Kenji Toki
(see also this page)


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