This week is Asian Art Week in London, where over sixty of the world’s top dealers, major auction houses and museums put on shows of art from all over Asia. It runs from 31st October to 9th November, which I suppose makes it Asian Art Ten Days, but I can see why they don’t call it that – much less catchy. And one of the most exciting exhibitions for a Japanese art enthusiast is the Four Living National Treasures show at The Fine Art Society. What’s a Living National Treasure? I’ll explain.
In Japan they have Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties which, among other things, protects ‘intangible cultural properties’, which are artistic, dramatic or musical skills. Individuals who are designated by the law as having mastery of these skills are popularly known as Living National Treasures. So you can see that a show by four of them is something very special.
There is an interesting mix of skills on show, covering ceramics, textiles, lacquer and bamboo.
As a big ceramics fan, I particularly liked the work of Jun Isezaki, who was designated a living national treasure in 2004 for his work with Bizen pottery. He uses the distinctive clay from the Bizen area and traditional firing techniques, which bring out the rich colours and textures for which Bizen ceramics are famous. The pottery is never glazed and no designs are painted on the finished pieces. Each piece spends around two weeks in the kiln, and the colour changes that take place during the firing process lie at the heart of the art form.
Isezaki sometimes produces works in classical vessel forms reflecting the thousand-year traditions of Bizen pottery, but is also influenced by modern industrial shapes, so some of his vases resemble monolithic blocks.
I was also impressed by Noboru Fujinuma’s woven bamboo baskets, in which he seeks to revive a traditional Japanese craft. He became a living national treasure in 2012. He says that bamboo develops unique characteristics related to the area in which it is grown and he has come to have a very special feeling and relationship with bamboo from Tochigi prefecture, where he now lives. He uses a variety of plaiting techniques with the aim of drawing out the essential energy of the bamboo.
Kazumi Murose produces maki-e, decorated lacquerware made by sprinkling wet lacquer with metallic powder, usually gold or silver. Each piece takes months to produce, and allows no room for even the slightest error. Murose became a living national treasure in 2008.
Kunihiko Moriguchi is a Yuzen textile artist. Yuzen is a form of resist-dying originally pioneered in Kyoto in the seventeenth century. In Yuzen dying a rice paste is painted onto the silk to create the pattern; when the fabric is dyed the painted areas resist the dye.
Moriguchi was designated as a living national treasure in 2007, following in his father’s footsteps. His designs are derived from mathematical transformations, and the patterns of his kimono shift and change as they move.
He also uses Yuzen dying to produce pictures on silk; his Big Bang series is on show in the exhibition.
The exhibition at The Fine Art Society continues until 21 November. Opening times are Monday-Friday 10am-6pm, Saturday 11am-4pm. Don’t be put off by the fact that they’re a Bond St gallery – they’re very welcoming and even let me in when I turned up one minute after their official closing time.
You can find a full list of Asian Art in London exhibitions and events on their website.