Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Crafting Beauty

The very lovely Frances wrote a blog post the other day about visiting the Japan Society in New York to see an exhibition by a Japanese 'national treasure', the textile artist Serizawa Keisuke. (Over here, in the UK, we may decide amongst ourselves that, say, Stephen Fry or Alan Bennett is a national treasure, but in Japan, it can be made official).

Her post reminded me of an exhibition that I visited at the British Museum in July 2007 which was running at the same time as the Chinese Terracotta Warriors one. But this one was actually more impressive and awe-inspiring. It was called 'Crafting Beauty in Modern Japan' and I have rarely come away from an exhibition wishing I could have just nicked most of the exhibits to keep for my very own.

Items from 8 categories were displayed - ceramics, textiles, lacquer, metal, wood & bamboo, dolls, cut metal foil and glass. The quality was absolutely breath-taking and just, well, perfect. Each of the items on display were works of art as well as being completely functional (apart from the dolls which didn't actually do anything for me - guess I'm not a doll person although I could appreciate the skill in creating them. Those I wouldn't have nicked). The artists are all classed as modern 'national treasures' and are revered as such.

Each item (well, the ones I liked) could have been put on a plinth individually and had a gallery all to itself, to just be admired. So the overall effect of having so many items of this quality all in one room was almost overpowering. They even caused complete strangers to converse about how beautiful it all was (i.e., I found myself discussing some particularly exquisite ceramics with someone) and if you know anything about the English, you'll know we just don't do that sort of thing.

So, I want to know, do we create such fabulous masterpieces in this country? And if so, who are they? If not, why not? I'm aware that the Japanese have a more deeply held cultural appreciation for simple objects beautifully created, but do we?

I'm probably breaking all kinds of copyright rules here but I've scanned in a few pictures of some of the items that made me catch my breath. There are unashamedly more pictures of ceramics below than any other medium, because I liked them the best (click on any of the pictures to make them bigger). If you're interested in getting hold of a copy of the catalogue, you can get one from Amazon. I would highly recommend it as there are many more pictures in it than I'll show here.

This is a masterful example of using coloured glazes.

I loved the colour and the crackle glaze effect of this bowl.

This is a modern interpretation of a more primitive style of vessel used exclusively for drinking tea. I imagine the texture of the thick rough glaze must form an integral part of the ceremony.

This is a fabulous thing - it's notoriously difficult to make a spherical vessel but to then get just the very top layer of the clay to crack and fissure, to make it look like thousands of tiny lengths of cotton thread have been adhered to the surface, is just extraordinary.

This is a bowl that has been made from clay that has been marbled into layers before being formed into a bowl. But notice how the layers all remain perfectly uniform to each other. This bowl cannot have been made on a wheel because the layers would swirl - so how was it made? I have no idea....

As mentioned, there were textiles there, mostly kimono designs, and they were all lovely but this one blew me away. This design has been tie-dyed. I'll just let that sink in for a second before I repeat - TIE-DYED! Click on this picture for a closer look and then compare it to your memories of your own primary school tie-dyed t-shirts, and marvel at the skill shown here.

This was my favourite item in the whole exhibition. A wooden box that has been lacquered but just look at it. It's unbelievably tactile - not to mention smooth, shiny and red, red, red.

I need to go and lie down now - I'm all overcome with object-lust.....


Frances said...

Well, what a love you are to create this post. I know that I would have loved to see the exhibit ... and what a treat it would have been to see it with you.

At one point in the Japan Society gallery on Sunday, while looking at a particular kimono, I thought that I might be about to burst into tears just from the exquisite beauty of the moment of seeing the beauty of that object. I did sort of get control of my eyes, but still felt glad to have been so dramatically touched by the exhibit.

Thank you so very much for sharing your reactions to the British Museum exhibit. Wow!

elizabethm said...

Quite extraordinarily beautiful - almost unbelievable! Thank you for showing us these. I am feeling quite inspired!

Anonymous said...

I love the box and the blue crackle bowl best. Beautiful things. Kind of reminds me of the pre raphaelite manifesto, to make things like an artisan, to make them beautiful but also functional. Lovely

Anonymous said...

Beautiful and inspiring. I'm amazed by the diversity of their art too; from total simplicity to intricate complexity.