Comments on the Grand Prize Winner
OHNISHI ───── Well, let’s discuss the Grand Prize winner specifically. The Grand Prize goes to ‘Four-Tiered Box’ by Kenji HONMA. Mr. HONMA, are you present? I know your father. Are you Mr. HONMA’s son?
HONMA ───── Yes, I am his second son.
OHNISHI ───── I see. Is your father doing well?
HONMA ───── Yes, he is fine, thank you.
OHNISHI ───── I am happy to hear that. Your father is a passionate artist.
We discussed this work in many ways, and I feel that this work reflects our era. Of course, crafts using non-lacquered wood have been long-used in Japan, and are highly valued. The artist of the Grand Prize winner seeks to draw attention to the combination of the plain woodwork tradition and Urushi tradition. This effect is expressed well for the tiered boxes. The Japanese title ‘Wariki’ comes from the particular technique of splitting the wood. Is this chestnut wood?
HONMA ───── No, this is Urushi wood.
OHNISHI ───── Oh, I see, excuse me. The Urushi tree, as you know, is a graceful tree. It is strong and graceful, just like its sap. Isn’t it interesting? I like its grain pattern. It is not very delicate, but there is something rustic about the grain that I like. The artist enhances the natural materials just like Shunkei and Magewappa. Wariki splitting includes various techniques. The Urushi tree is not flexible, so the wood cannot be split so easily. For this work, he chopped the tree into blocks first and then into segments that were layered.
The special techniques used in woodworking have been around for a long time. Usually, the artist chops the wood horizontally, but this has been split vertically. When you chop firewood with a hatchet, you feel the life coming out of the wood, from the rustic freshness of the bark. With this work, he treated the wood with Urushi in order to protect the material against staining.
All the chairs and tables you are sitting on or at today are made from oil. In our modern times, we are surrounded by artificial items, and we want to show a strong reaction against such artificiality. In the case of Urushi ware, it is all made of natural materials. From our perspective in the present era, this naturalness attracts us and we are willing to purchase it. We tend to hope for modernization and futurization, however, the value of such natural products is much more deeply held and it connects us. I admire Mr. HONMA’s intention to use this togetherness for his work ‘Four-Tiered Box.’ It is an excellent work. The way of hollowing out the material and treating the grain patterns is natural, which makes this work so interesting.
This year, we have had many problems due to the COVID-19 Crisis. Quite a few scholars have commented that the future of human beings is hopeless. I’m afraid you have heard that if this situation continues as it is, human beings will cease to exist. From this perspective, I admire this excellent work. It gives us joy while making us consider something deep.
Next, we would like Mr. Shinichi YAMAMURA to make comments on the Grand Prize winner.
Shinichi YAMAMURA ───── Mr. HONMA, congratulations. Ladies and gentlemen, you have already understood from listening to Professor OHNISHI’s comments that the artist made use of the Urushi tree as the base material after he had tapped all the sap out of the tree. He prepared the tree which had come to the end of its sap-producing life and formed it into his artwork. Mr. HONMA owns a forest of Urushi trees and he himself taps the Urushi sap, so he is very familiar with the tree as a whole. The particularly excellent point of this work is that he has developed the material completely by himself, with the circumstances suggesting various techniques, materials and choice of theme. Such an attitude can be found in many of the submitted works.
As a matter of fact, more than ten years ago, the Urushi artist and living national treasure Ryozo KAWAGITA showed me the beautiful wooden base of a soup bowl and he asked me if I knew what wood it was. I was curious and answered, “I wonder what it is.” He said to me, “The material is Urushi tree wood after the sap has been tapped.” It was a beautiful example of Urushi wood being worked with a Rokuro woodturning technique. As Professor OHNISHI pointed out, I felt the wonder of the Urushi tree again.
Usually, when speaking of Rokuro, you turn the wood with the chisel to the horizontal direction against the axis in order to form the work. In the case of ‘Four-Tiered Box’, the artist values the form of the work coming out of the dialogue between the artist and the Urushi tree. The artist tries to express naturally the shape of the Urushi tree rather than using the linear form which comes out of quick chopping or splitting with a hatchet. Then he hollows the inside of the trunk and gives it a base. This procedure is rational. He showed us a new form of the tiered boxes. This work gives the mysterious feeling of predicting the future.
Please have a look at the Grand Prize winner by coming closer to the work. When you unstack the tiered boxes and spread them on the table, on the floor or on the tatami, you can express slightly different atmospheres from square or round tiers, because each tier has a very organic shape. When you present some dishes and sweets in the boxes and serve them to your guests, you will create a scenographic effect. In addition, this work is beautiful in itself as a work of art, and the artist aims at a new point of contact between the two uses, which I appreciate. Regarding his techniques, the finishing of the hollowed inside is well done, setting the Urushi lacquer with great care between the inside and outside. When you look at this work with the four tiers stacked, the impression of the work is linear. This impression shows off the artist’s novel staging effect.
I specialize in design, but this is my fifth time being a member of the Final Assessment Panel. I think that Mr. HONMA proposes a new possibility of the final usage of the Urushi tree after offering up its sap and life. As a base material of Urushi ware, Japanese cypress and Japanese elm (Zelkova) are often used. But to use the Urushi tree itself, from its full form chopped into the overall shape of the work, and then constructed to give it the function of a tiered box, this is a wonderful idea.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming to attend this Special Symposium. I think that in today’s audience many of you have experienced the process of working with the Urushi tree. Everything existing in the world has a wonderful conception of reincarnation. From the birth of the Urushi tree to its death, the tree keeps offering many things to us. Even after its death, it starts a new life as a tiered box. I’m sure this work is worthy of receiving the Grand Prize. Thank you for your attention.
SHIHO ───── May I put in a word here, too? Yesterday we took photos of the Grand Prize winner to publicize the exhibition. I was looking at this work for about an hour, and as Professor OHNISHI and Mr. YAMAMURA mentioned, I realized the ethereal sensitivity of the texture of the work. You cannot grasp this delicacy from the digital images.
When this Special Symposium is over, I would like to invite you to have a close look at the wood grain patterns, like that of thin shingle boards. The grain patterns look so mysterious, like a mixture of artificiality and randomization.
FUJIHARA(MC) ───── Thank you. As some panelists pointed out, the artist of the Grand Prize winner, Mr. HONMA is present at this venue now.
We would like to introduce him. Please come to the front and say a few words about winning the prize or your thoughts on the creation of your work.
HONMA ───── I’m Kenji HONMA, from Ibaraki Prefecture.
First of all, to all the members of the Preliminary and Final Assessment Panels, thank you for giving the Grand Prize to my work. Since I learned the techniques of Urushi sap collecting and woodturning on the Rokuro in Ishikawa Prefecture, for 20 years I have created Urushi ware in Ibaraki Prefecture. My father and my elder brother also create Urushi ware and I have worked with them and learned a lot about Urushi as a member of staff of the studio. This year I started working independently for the first time, and I had started creating my own Urushi ware two years ago. From the very beginning, I wanted to be an Urushi artist, and I started my career in the Urushi field. Since then I worked on various things for 20 years. Now, for the first time I feel as if I’m finally standing at the starting point. Thank you again for giving my work the Grand Prize.
FUJIHARA(MC) ───── Thank you, Mr. HONMA. We will now continue with comments on the rest of the prize winners.