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YUKI ICHIKAWA
JAPANESE LACQUER ART (URUSHI ART)
Yuki Ichikawa first started studying Urushi art in college, having originally become interested in it because of urushi’s unique characteristics (for instance, its adhesiveness). The underlying motive in her Urushi art is putting her audience in touch with Nature. “How can I convey Nature’s unseen qualities to people?” “How can I get people to feel Nature through my art?” These are the questions she asks herself, and answers them with her natural urushi lacquer creations.
ABOUT URUSHI
Urushi is one of the most durable natural lacquers available, made from the sap of the Urushi tree. It has been used for almost 9000 years, and popularly used for bowls, trays and boxes, amongst other things. The resin lacquer urushi adds durability and resilience to make these items last longer, as well as giving each item a beautiful glossy appearance. Its adhesive qualities are also used art for attaching decorations (e.g. gold powder, shell and eggshell). While a variety of decorative techniques have been developed throughout China, Korea, Myanmar and Japan, maki-e is a peculiarly Japanese technique which uses gold and silver powder to decorate the surface of the artwork.
Note: Urushi is usually mixed with other ingredients when used. For example, cloth, Japanese paper (washi) and also whetstone powders (jinoko and tonoko) add strength and smoothness. Contemporary urushi artisans are adding their own personal touch to their creations by drawing on techniques and knowledge from the past.

PRODUCT CONCEPT

Ms. Ichikawa’s accessories are inspired by the theme of “art which puts people in touch with Nature”. The process by which she creates her artworks is unique: sand and soil piles up in layers to form mountains and rocks, then they are broken down by the force of Nature, with some fragments forming rocks and pebbles. She likens her creative process to these natural phenomena. By using assorted materials, such as sea shells, gold leaf and powder, or even egg shells, she makes her own urushi products in her own inimitable style.

PRODUCTION PROCESS

Using kokuso Urushi

Usually, urushi artisans use a shaped wood base for their products and paint urushi onto it. However, Ms. Ichikawa uses kokuso urushi for her works. It is dried urushi mixed with hemp cotton, wood powder and water-soluble paste. When hardened and dried for a month, it has similar characteristics to wood. Kokuso urushi is used mainly for repairing urushi art works: it is malleable, and long-lasting when it dries. But she uses this material to express “Nature” because this one substance is made up of several different components. It is one way in which she can suggest an answer to her question, “How can I convey the beauty of nature to people?”

Decorating with shells, gold leaf, gold, silver & tin powders

The artist breaks kokuso urushi into pieces and chooses the fragments she feels are best suited as the base shape for her accessories. After she has picked out the base shapes, she follows the three stages of urushi painting: the undercoat (shitaji-zukuri), the middle coat (nakanuri) and the final coat (uwanuri). Once the piece is painted, it needs to be dried and then polished with charcoal. Then it is painted once more. This process is repeated for a month to shape her accessories into the image she is looking for. Then she uses the maki-e decorative technique, with inlaid mother-of-pearl called raden.

She believes that the process of making urushi art is similar to the phenomena seen in Nature: shells get stuck between rocks, they are ground down, and eventually they are assimilated. When she shapes and decorates accessories, she preserves their natural form and shape and never interferes with their original beauty. This is her individual way of working that makes each piece special.
Note: Her works can not be replicated exactly, since the shapes are created by breaking a large piece of kokuso urushi into smaller pieces. When she receives a customer order, she chooses the pieces that most closely resemble the sample picture. We hope you enjoy this unique accessory!

  • This is kokuso urushi. She believes that the way these materials mix together and harden is similar to phenomena seen in Nature: sand and soil piles up in layers and forms a mountain.

  • Broken pieces of the hardened kokuso urushi. The texture resembles wood, but the material is lighter than wood. These will be painted and made into accessories.

  • Urushi needs 12-24 hours to dry. Usually people think of the drying process as the evaporation of water but Urushi dries by absorbing moisture from the air.