The lifespan of wood stretches far beyond those of humans; the medium of lacquer has survived for thousands of years and various environmental changes, enduring as a treasured art form. I want to emphasize the characteristics of each tree to create works with charm that intensifies with use and age. Using Chestnut, Yakusugi, and centuries-old Zelkova, my single-minded desire is to produce beautiful forms that feel modern and contemporary. For over forty years, the infinite possibilities of lacquer have empowered me to continue to experiment and innovate. -- Jihei Murase
The Work of Jihei Murase
Representative of the country’s prestigious craftsmanship, urushi (“lacquer”) has become synonymous with “Japan.” Artist Jihei Murase stands at the forefront of Japanese lacquer craft; Murase’s artistic practice is informed by an encounter with the sculpture of Brancusi during his college days. His exceptional technique adeptly balances between functional and aesthetic beauty.
Jihei Murase III’s grandfather, Jihei I, who himself made ceramic tea wares, was a collaborator and friend to distinguished artist Rosanjin and cultural scholar Fujio Koyama. Surrounded by leading figures in Japanese culture and the tea ceremony during his formative years, the lacquer artist developed a familiarity with the ceremonial rituals. Equipped with inherited knowledge of both woodworking techniques and ceremonial decorum, Murase produces tea utensils and functional objects that become more vibrant and alive with every use.
Murase’s innovations have expanded the category of lacquerware both technically and aesthetically. Using modern gadgets including the lathe and hand-forged wrought iron tools, the artist realizes impressive shapes, each with a unique expression. Murase’s vision relies on technical mastery using a variety of techniques: machete cutting, hatsuri (“scalloping”), shinogi (“ridging”), and iron oxidization to build layers of rust. His finishes are not only vermillion or black, but also blue, silver, white, and more.
Several years ago, I was privileged to visit Murase’s workshop in Tokyo, Japan. Amidst a sea of wood shavings and the aroma of trees, I found the artist gleefully sculpting at his lathe. For him, the work of creating lacquerware is an appreciation for the wood medium and a single-minded devotion to the craft that he loves dearly.
His sublime forms surpass even antique Negoro-nuri (“Negoro style lacquer”), delightful tea utensils shaped like nuts and seeds, short and wide water jars challenging the limits of the lathe, and high trays crafted with exquisite order. To Jihei Murase, urushi—that is, Japan—is constantly evolving.
-- Shoko Aono