The Past Meets the Present: Terumasa Ikeda’s Lacquerware

Deborah A. Goldberg, Ph.D., Terumasa Ikeda: Iridescent Lacquer, 2023年3月1日

          With great virtuosity, Terumasa Ikeda transports lacquerware into the 21st century. He bridges the past and the present by using the same raden technique and materials employed by prior lacquer artists: urushi, hinoki wood, mother-of-pearl, and gold leaf. Breaking from tradition, he utilizes digital technologies to laser cut the abalone shell, lay out his design, and to cut the wood. A computer numerical control (CNC) machine, a reverse 3D printer, draws the shapes out of the solid hinoki. The final design is all meticulously placed by hand.

          Ikeda has developed variations on universal symbols – Arabic numerals. Random patterns of numbers and abstract forms, which glow in a colorful spectrum against a black background, evoke computer screens, streaming LED lights, circuit boards, or miniature versions of the Mega Screen at Broadway’s Times Square or the neon lights of Tokyo’s Shinjuku.  The numbers appear to move as through their spiraling designs on the curvilinear containers.  Sometimes the numbers or abstract patterns of distended numerals part to create abstract black voids that look like whirlpools or bodies of water seen from an aerial perspective. The broad application of golden numbers recalls traditional makie. Gold detailing around the edges of some of Ikeda’s boxes become trompe l’oeil chains.

          While Ikeda’s objects are meant to serve the same age-old purposes – to store tea and incense – he makes ultra-modern, streamlined, and geometric containers. With his pyramidal boxes, made possible by the CNC machine, he has added a new form to the lacquer canon. Ikeda’s workspace in Kanazawa, a refurbished machiya or historic wooden townhouse, echoes his unique blend of the old and the new.

          Ikeda states: "For a long period, Japanese decorative art based its designs on graceful images of the seasons, poetry, or songs. However, my work uses a shared image of the vast quantity of information that exists in the present day, and which cannot be expressed in traditional ways. It is difficult to employ the techniques and aesthetics that have been passed down from the past to create an eternal beauty, but I believe that by reflecting the 'now' I am continuing the tradition" [1].

          Ikeda, born in 1987, represents a new generation. In the 19th century, Shibata Zeshin (1807-1891) changed the course of lacquerware by adding new finishes to emulate different materials.  By exhibiting at international expositions, he was discovered by the West by the end of his career [2]. Through his unique methods, animated designs, and technical wizardry, Ikeda is the Zeshin of our time and should equally delight a Western audience with his first New York show.


    1. "The Raden of Terumasa Ikeda," Tokyo Ippodo Gallery (July 2021). 
    2. Barbara Brennan Ford, “The Arts of Japan,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin (Summer 1987), 55.


Deborah A. Goldberg, Ph. D.
Ph.D., the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University; Instructor, School of Visual Arts; Educator, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art; Author, catalogue, Isamu Noguchi, Patent Holder: Designing the World of Tomorrow,  for exhibition at the M.T. Geoffrey Yeh Art Gallery at St. John's University (2015); Co-author and co-editor, Alexander Archipenko Revisited: An International Perspective (Archipenko Foundation, 2008).