Slick as Can Be: Lacquerware Then and Now

Bamboo spoons coated in black lacquerUrushi Bamboo Spoons by Mori Kowa from Ashes and Milk

The technique of lacquer can be traced back to as early as the Neolithic period in China and the Jomon period in Japan. Practices for lacquer vary from region to region and country to country;   the traditional Japanese technique of Urushi, for example, uses the sap of a lacquer tree which is handpainted in thin layers using a paint brush made of women’s hair.  In many instances powdered gold was added to create intricate designs.

a lacquer treelacquer tree image via UniProt

Housewares, furniture, jewellery and even armor were popular lacquered objects in Japan, and there are still people practicing this ancient art in inventive and inspiring ways. Let’s take a look at some examples of lacquerware, both old and new.

Japanese antique black lacquer tea setJapanese Lacquer Tea Set image courtesy of Greentea Design

The Japanese tea set pictured above is an excellent example of the sorts of household objects that were often lacquered. This set exhibits the traditional colours of black, red, and gold as well as a traditional vine motif.

Japanese lacquer combs19th Century Japanese Combs from the Victoria and Albert Museum

How lovely are these Japanese combs? Such beautiful colours and impeccable workmanship. The delicate paintings on these combs show the level of artistic skill that the masters of lacquerware were capable of. These particular combs are part of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s collection.

"Brick Screen" lacquer screenClassicon Brick Screen by Eileen Gray via Private

The Brick Screen by Eileen Gray is an example of how the art of lacquerware has been adopted outside of Asia. Gray designed the Brick screen from 1922-1925 after learning the art of lacquer from a Japanese artisan, and this work is still an iconic piece of art deco design.

Red lacquer Urushi BoxUrushi box by Kuroda Tatsuaki via architonic

Kuroda Tatsuaki’s magnificent red Urushi box is a textural and visual masterpiece. The flowing lines of this piece are accentuated by the way light is reflected off the lacquer surface.

Nendo's black laquered paper objectsLacquered Paper Objects by nendo

These lacquered boxes by nendo show how the old and new can be blended. The small boxes are made out of paper using a 3D printer and then hand finished with lacquer. The rolled paper and thin layers of lacquer almost give the impression of wood grain.

Gold and black detailing of this dining room mimics Japanese lacquerSteven Gambrel via Odi et Amo

And finally, this stunning dining room is of course not lacquered in the traditional sense, but the high gloss of the walls and the black and gold tones throughout the space give the impression of Japanese lacquerware, don’t you think?

Happy Friday Everyone!

One Response to Slick as Can Be: Lacquerware Then and Now

  1. Pingback: Vietnamese Crafts | The Design Tree by Greentea Design

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