Tohru Matsuzaki

Works in Urushi Lacquer

March 15, 2012 - April 14, 2012
Opening Reception: March 15 (Thurs) 6-8pm ( coincides with Asia Week New York 2012 (March 16 to 24)
Tohru Matsuzaki

"Wood is doomed to decay but by applying numerous coats of urushi lacquer, it is possible to create objects that will continue to be loved by their owners for 500 or even 1,000 years".
-Tohru Matsuzaki

Matsuzaki's urushi lacquer works consist of 400 to 500 year-old zelkova, horse chestnut or chestnut timber that has been carved, and then given numerous liberal coats of natural urushi lacquer. Through them we are able to experience the joy of the wood itself. The mere fact that that the word japan has been used synonymously to describe lacquer ware (in the same way that china has been used to describe porcelain wares, demonstrates the strong historical significance that lacquer ware holds in Japanese art, which dates back to the Jomon Period (14500 BC to 1000 BC). Matsuzaki is unusual today in that he uses only pure, Japanese urushi lacquer, which is of the highest quality and is prized for its color and sheen. His containers are reminiscent of ancient ritual utensils, finished in a primitive vermillion coloring. These nostalgic, yet original forms, grasp the heart of the viewer. The rough texture of the surface is covered in multiple coats of urushi lacquer, possessing a warmth like that of human skin. His works attract people and encourage touch. These handmade works that Matsuzaki hopes will 'live for 1,000 years', possess a universal appeal that is particularly rare in art works today.
Born in 1944, Tohru Matsuzaki is the eldest son of the Nihonga-style painter and dyer, Shu-ki Matsuzaki. His grandfather, uncle and cousin were both academics, specializing in oriental art and culture. From an early age, Matsuzaki became absorbed with baseball, devoting his youth to the mud and sweat of the ballpark. He had enjoyed playing with wood since childhood, but it was not until he was twenty-nine that he first came into contact with lacquer. Then at thirty, he became involved in craftwork through the influence of the late potter and Japan's 'Living National Treasure', Tatsuzo Shimaoka. Later he began to work in wood, opening a studio in a town adjacent to Mashiko in Tochigi Prefecture, home to the famous potters of the Mingei (folk-craft) movement, Tatsuzo Shimaoka and Shoji Hamada. It is here where he devotes himself to his bold and unique wood/lacquer craftwork.
He says, 'Mankind has known the value of wood and lacquer for over ten thousand years. I felt that I wanted to use these to make something in a present continuous form, something that could be used, but which would also be appreciated universally for its beauty.' He uses only the best quality timber that has been allowed to dry for over twenty years to ensure that it does not warp. Grasping a chisel in his large hands, he cuts the wood away, carving out the form, stroke by stroke. All of his works are hewn from a single block of wood and even the small feet on the base of the trays are carved out and not added later. He does not use a lathe, preferring to use a chisel even to carve out the feet of his tea bowls. He then coats the wood in urushi lacquer, applying approximately twenty coats. Under the vermillion, there is black, and under the black there is more vermillion, so when the work is rubbed down in the final stages, the base colors show through. This creates a beautiful effect similar to that of negoro lacquer ware or Korean Joseon Dynasty lacquer ware. His bold brushstrokes create a textured unevenness in the surface that is completely unlike the delicate work of makie lacquer. The more the object is handled over the years, the more its appearance will mature, giving birth to an even greater impression of strength. Each of Tohru Matsuzaki's unique works takes anywhere from one to five years to create.
To see Matsuzaki's works is to want to reach out and touch them. Each work embodies his physical nature that was formed through his involvement with baseball in his youth, combined with the literary mentality that he inherited from his academic family - overflowing with passion and intellect. The sternness with which he uses his great physical strength to drive the chisel into the wood, and the gentleness with which he converses with his materials, produce conflicting energies that may be said to come together in a form of innocent prayer. The works contain a wildness, but are definitely not crude. To the contrary, they possess quite a cultured presence. In ancient times, we lived in the forests together with the trees. Matsuzaki's woodcraft awakens primitive emotions within us: the desire to touch and the joy of living, recalling ancient memories. Moreover, each of his works will live for 1,000 years. Matsuzaki uses wood and lacquer to transcend this vast span of time, continuing to carve another new romance today and every day.