Shimpei Matsuzaki

Loosely translated, “urushi” means Japanese lacquer, but in fact urushi is distinct from other kinds of lacquer. Urushi itself is a natural sap that comes from a particular type of tree that grows in East Asia, which in Japanese we call the “urushi no ki,” or “the urushi tree.”

I use traditional urushi materials and techniques to make works of art.
To make an object using urushi, I start with a wooden body, which is a piece of wood that I carve to the basic shape, for example a box or a bowl.
Then, I paint this wood with many coats of urushi. These numerous layers of urushi will make the body of the piece strong. I apply a coat of urushi, I let it harden, then I polish the surface. I repeat this process many times until I have as many layers as needed.

Urushi requires a humid environment to cure and harden properly. For that reason, after I apply each layer of urushi, I put the piece on a shelf in my bathroom. The urushi absorbs a little of the moisture so it can harden properly without drying out.
A carefuly and properly made piece of urushi is durable enough that is can be used by several generations in a family.

I use and teach various techniques for decorating urushi, for example with pieces of shell and other materials.
Japan is lucky to have four distinct seasons, and I like to express these in my urushi art. On the surfaces of my urushi pieces, I create pictures of the natural landscape—flower, trees, leaves, oceans, rivers, mountains, wind….
My goal is to portray these using beautiful colors. One ideal material for this is “mother-of-pearl,” which is made from thin pieces of shellfish shell. The color tones from these shell fragments are a perfect match for urushi.
The process for using mother-of-pearl is very intricate and time-consuming. First I must shave the shell and polish it very thinly, usually using a machine tool. Then I cut the shell into pieces and set these into the urushi surface to make my pattern. I coat them with more urushi, let it harden, then polish the surface. I repeat this process—coating, hardening, and polishing—until the surface and the picture are perfect.

This traditional method is very time consuming, but I think it makes a very nice and beautiful end result!

Works

Information

  • Categories
    Lacquerware
  • Honors and Affiliation
    Full member, Japan Kogei Association

Career

  • 1981
    Born in Tokyo
  • 2005
    Graduated from the Department of Crafts (Urushi-Art) in the Faculty of Fine Arts, Tokyo University of the Arts
  • 2007
    Completed his Master’s Degree in Urushi-Art at the Graduate School of Fine Arts, Tokyo University of the Arts
    Joined Kiriya Tanaka Inc. as a kiri wood chest of drawers factory production staff member (Up until 2009)
  • 2009
    Educational research assistant at the Urushi-Art Laboratory, Tokyo University of the Arts (Up until 2012)
  • 2011
    2nd Cross-straits Creative Tea Utensils Design Exhibition (Wuyi Shan, Fujian Province, China)
    Engaged in the restoration works of Kirikane designs on a glass vessel, a Byodoin Phoenix Hall artefact
  • 2012
    Part-time lecturer at the Urushi-Art Laboratory, Tokyo University of the Arts
    Urushi Art – History and the Future (The University Art Museum, Tokyo University of the Arts)
  • 2013
    2013 Hubei International Triennial of Lacquer Art (Hubei Province, China)
    International Lacquer Art Exhibition (Daegu, South Korea)
    Taiwan-Japan Lacquer Exchange Exhibition – The Past, Present and Future Exhibition (The University Art Museum Chinretsukan Gallery, Tokyo University of the Arts, )
    From Crafts to Kogei – In Commemoration of the 60th Japan Traditional Art Crafts Exhibition (Crafts Gallery, the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo)
  • 2015
    Solo exhibition “The color”(Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi Main Store Art Salon)
  • 2017
    [Decorative but Calm/by Japanese Artists with modern craftsmanship] (Daiwa Foundation Japan House Gallery, London)

Award

  • 2004
    Received the Harada Award (Tokyo University of the Arts Harada Bursary)
  • 2009
    Received the Yamatane Museum of Art Award at the 49th Exhibition of East Japan Traditional “Kogei”
  • 2010
    Received the Japan Kogei Association Incentive Award at the 57th Japan Traditional Art Crafts Exhibition
    Received the Excellence Award at the 2010 Chinese Copyright Creativity – International Lacquer Arts Invitational Exhibition in Fuzhou (Fujian Province, China)
  • 2013
    Received the Incentive Award at the 53rd Exhibition of East Japan Traditional “Kogei”
  • 2015
    Nezu Museum Director Award, 49th Exhibition of East Japan Traditional Art Crafts
  • Present (2014)
    Full member, Japan Kogei Association
    Part-time lecturer at the Urushi-Art Laboratory, Faculty of Fine Arts, Tokyo University of the Arts
    Director, Japan Association for Urushi Cultural Heritage