How we look at things is the foundation for how we make things. In sharing how I look at the world around me, you’re invited to notice more, and respond to more, of your own world. The longer posts on my site are a survey of inspirations. This series goes deeper with single objects.
First the object, one of a pair found at The Zentner Collections
“A pair of Japanese hibachi, or braziers, done in black lacquer decorated with chrysanthemums in gold and mother of pearl, inspired by Ogata Korin and Kenzan of the Rinpa School. The motif is also known as manju-kiku since it appears similarly to a red bean filled mochi sweet. Two lacquer techniques are used for the hibachi: The top and bottom is done using a technique called, tataki-urushinuri and the center is simple shin-nuri. Early 20th century. Height 8.5″ Diameter 13.5” “.
Every aspect of this object is carefully considered. An example of deliberate intention, whose clarity and congruity of aesthetic is everywhere in the piece. Abstract organic style, beautiful craftsmanship, and minimal materials that have more impact because of their scarcity.
The overall shape, simple yet not simplistic, is an abstraction: not quite round, not an oval, not a pillow. It has integrity because it is precise, purposeful, despite its uncommon profile.
Dividing the black surface into thirds frames the central decorated area, drawing attention to it. At the same time, framing bands cut across portions of the motif, right through a highly stylized chrysanthemum.
This cutting-off of seemingly important elements is a classic Japanese compositional move. To me it implies that these are natural forms in situ, where the unpredictable, the uncontrollable, happens routinely. Here the lacquer and inlays are not so much decoration, as hommage to what is already all around us: the beauty of a single observed moment. So this present moment itself is the motif here, as in the butterfly tray below. There’s a link too between the confidence of an artist and her willingness to remove parts of the design to strengthen the whole.
Back to the hibachi…
This detail illustrates the glorious play of different surface effects: gold, textured matte black, mother of pearl, glossy black lacquer. Three variations on irregular ovals made of gold and nacre. Simple but non-repeating shapes that show off the beauty of the materials themselves, particularly when applied in this subtle relief, and adding the impression of depth as the chrysanthemum leaves lie above that golden oval.
These hibachi are dated early 20th C, when art deco, itself already influenced by Japanese organic minimalism, was leaking back into Asian art. I’m not an art historian, but an artist, although our long human history of cross-pollination is intriguing. For now this is about integrating inspiration into our work.
It’s not enough to say ‘I love Japanese art’. We all love Japanese art. If I want to emulate it I need to figure out what about it I love specifically. Then bring those approaches into my own work. That is what using something for inspiration really is about.
In this object’s design I see a wonderful balance between large glossy black areas, and small, potent touches of gold, nacre and textured black. My attention goes back and forth, sinking into the black, then being pulled back up to the surfaces. There’s simultaneously an organic nonchalance with sumptuous materials here. A very Japanese dichotomy.
The unusual shapes of both the object itself, and the design elements, reinforce each other. Variations on surfaces: textured and opaque, pearlescent and iridescent, thick gold, and that luscious black, all animate the piece so that my eye goes around and around discovering. Placing elements, like these chrysanthemum ovals, in a organic and random array is challenging but a worthwhile effort.
Try this. Look very closely at something that makes you catch you breath, take your time, and list three things you notice.
Where do you want to do more of those in your own artwork?