2007年04月23日

Mutsumi Suzuki -The Warmth of Kyoto

Lacquered Plate with Gold Makie Motif of Rice Fields

Mutsumi Suzuki -In the Palm of One's Hand, the Warmth of Kyoto

Perhaps it was four summers ago.

Lacquer artist Suzuki Mutsumi (born 1942 - ) and I were beneath a sea of stars in the silent hills surrounding the ancient city of Kyoto, an elegiac moon reigning brightly in the night sky. Two large torches fired the cypress stage, as the Noh actor slowly descended upon us, the asymmetry of the drums and the flutes cascading through the midsummer air.

The Noh was beautiful, and so was the night.

“It's her land and her history, it's her natural surroundings coloured with the four seasons, which have given birth to a distinct way of life. Being born and bred in the traditions of Kyoto have nurtured the foundations for my art.”

Various Works

The air of Kyoto dries the lacquer of Suzuki, and in his works seep a soul richly nurtured in its elegant traditions. “Every work of mine is filled with soul,” says the artist, smiling meekly as he sips on cold sake from a cup he had made several years ago. “I strive to make works that satisfy the five senses. Ultimately, the works that remain are filled with spirit, or in a sense, the soul.”

I nod my head in agreement, but tell him this. “Sensei, five senses are not enough.”

Lacquered Sake Cup

A major aspect of contemporary craft today is its pursuit of extremity, both poetically and physically. We are at an age where traditional techniques have been mastered, both through practice and through technology, to levels that could not be realized before. Thus we can observe, in various categories of craft, artists testing the limits of their art. Previous conceptions, or perhaps previous limitations of craft art, have passed, giving way to a new blossoming of creativity and artistry.

Black Lacquer Bowl

In that sense, the Suzuki Lacquers are a sublime amalgamation of both tradition and innovation. The meticulous application of coats of lacquer, one brushstroke at a time, is a storied tradition that can be found in Japan since the Heian era. To complete a single work can take months, and a single brushstroke can destroy its beauty.

Silver Lacquer Bowl

Yet it is in Suzuki's imaginative forms, and in his technique of applying lacquer to such forms, which are both distinctive and highly innovative trademarks of the artist.

In a sense, Suzuki Mutsumi has revolutionized the way lacquer is made and, ultimately, perceived. The wood bases that are used in his pieces are barely 0.3 millimetres thick. By painstakingly brushing layer after layer of lacquer onto an absurdly thin piece of wood (more akin to paper) which is both wobbly, unstable and curved, Suzuki creates a highly original lacquered vessel that is both extremely light, unbelievably strong, distinctly sleek, and a pleasure to touch and feel.

Silver and Gold Lacquer Plate with Roaring Wave Motif

It can be said that Suzuki has pushed the material that is lacquer to the forefront, while reducing the material of wood and its fundamental importance to the tiniest of fractions. In his sake cups, for example, the percentage of lacquer applied to the piece comprises 80 to 90 percent of the total mass of the piece. While pushing the limits of his craft’s materials to new heights, Suzuki gives us works that are incredibly aerodynamic and smooth, yet with the distinct warmth and soft richness of lacquer.

“A truly good work is one that pleases the soul, and such works are those that are filled with a unique sense of warmth. My works are made with its purpose in mind, to stimulate the senses, to make one want to sip cold sake from its smooth rim, to make a person hunger to eat tasty seasonal dishes while softly holding the vessel in one's palms. The weight of each work is calculated to weigh a perfect balance with the food it will ultimately hold. With such aspects in mind, the works are filled with the warmth of Kyoto.”

Lacquered Bowls

Suzuki Mutsumi is a special artist, once eschewed by the traditional lacquer community for his unorthodox style, and once infamously burning all of his award-winning works at Nitten as he felt the works “lacked warmth.”

“Lacquer burns incredibly well. You should have seen the fire. Some people may think me mad for destroying such prized works. But I thought nothing of it. From that day, I vowed never to make works that were cerebral, intentional, or made with the critic’s prize in mind. I vowed, from that very day, to make works that touch the senses, to bring happiness and serenity to those who may come across my art.”

Various Works

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art Limited

- The Suzuki Lacquers -
Exhibition of Works by World-Renowned
Kyoto Artist Mutsumi Suzuki

April 25 (Wed) - 27 (Fri)
Open 11:00AM to 7:00PM (6:00PM Fri)
-Artist available during show period-
Tokyo American Club Plymouth Room (3F)

- See exhibition page for more details and preview -
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