The Weight of Lightness
The Art of Lacquer by Jun Anzai
Wandering on the streets, Jun Anzai has a habit of observing the flowers and weeds on the side of the road. He would pick up a branch of a small plant and place it in his handmade lacquer vase, which is a humble and delicate decoration to his minimalistic warm home.
Before becoming a master of lacquerware, Anzai was once a student of Akito Akagi, one of the twelve most important lacquerware artists in Japan. After learning from Akagi for seven years, Anzai set up his own workshop to promote the beauty of lacquerware. “I got a job at a drinks factory after graduation. The factory soon switched to industrial production for a better efficiency and productivity. Then I realized the coldness of machine industry was not what I looked for and began to have a desire to learn some traditional crafts. I wanted to use my own hands to create and use crafts that carry a personality. Later on, I was enrolled in Kyoto College of Traditional Arts. Walking around the campus to check out the exhibitions, I got to learn about the art of lacquer. I was totally intrigued and determined to learn the skill.”
The history of lacquerware can be traced back to the Edo period as a luxury decoration that was used only on special occasions. Learning his skills from Akito Akagi, Jun Anzai tries to bring lacquerware into everyday life. “My teacher said we need to master a certain skill. To me, all I want is to make practical craft items for daily use. Lacquer is a very light material that has great potential. Its surface sometimes resembles bronze, ceramic or clay, but once you pick it up, you would be surprised by how light it is. Lacquerware is also very durable, which makes it a perfect household utility item. The most important thing is to give the skill I have learned a personal touch instead of blindly replicating.” Sometimes people would ask Anzai, why does he use the Kanshitsu (dry lacquer) skills but not following his teacher Akagi’s wood-body lacquer skill. He said, “Kanshitsu can imitate various types of material. Its existence lingers between heaviness and lightness. I enjoy collecting tree branches and put them in a tiny Kanshitsu vase. This gives me a sense of wholeness.”
Kanshitsu is a technique originated from the State of Chu during the Warring States period in China. In its early phase, dry lacquer was used in making Buddha statue. It was later introduced to Japan. The technique requires a model made of clay or wood. The next step is to tightly mount multiple layers of hemp cloth and lacquer onto the model that is to be removed once the cloth dries up. Since the end product is made of merely hemp cloth and lacquer, it is sturdy yet light. Anzai makes his lacquerware with natural lac resin, the fluid that a plant secretes as a response to injury. It would get rock solid once dried. Lacquerware covered with lac resin can breathe well and is adaptive to temperature change, therefore, the surface can maintain its coolness when serving hot tea. Its color also gets milder after being used for a long time, so every of the lacquerware can carry their own texture of history.
In the production process, it is impossible for the craftsman to look at the inside of the item; they can only believe in their experience and instinct. “I am trying to give Kanshitsu a fresh face using the traditional technique. I hope the younger generation can embrace the warm tradition of lacquerware as much as I do.” Anzai’s lacquerwares have a simple and minimalistic design. Instead of being bold and special, they would quietly elude their calm and elegant charm.
The Gallery by SOIL G/F, 52 Po Hing Fong, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong