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Shokunin: Keikou Nishimura, Lacquerware

Photo by Yuya Hoshino

In celebration of our current Art in the Garden exhibition, Shokunin: Five Kyoto Artisans Look to the Future, each week we’ll feature one of the five artists whose work is showcased in the exhibition. Previously, we featured Hosai MatsubayashiShuji Nakagawa, and Chiemi Ogura. This week, we’re sharing the work of Keikou Nishimura, a third generation lacquer artisan, who specializes in uwa-nuri, the application of the final coat of urushi, a natural lacquer that has been used for over 9,000 years.

Photo by Yuya Hoshino

Utilizing the natural qualities of urushi applied to a paper-thin wooden core, he invented a new technique which allows lacquerware to naturally take beautiful curvy shapes. With this new technique, Nishimura creates sculptural pieces that emphasize the beauty of Kyoto’s delicate wood-turning techniques, as well as traditional Japanese lacquered utensils for use in the tea ceremony and in everyday life.

“I can’t stop feeling the presence of nature while I’m working with urushi lacquer. Fine lacquerware cannot be obtained without the blessings of nature. Urushi is a resin; it is the blood of the urushi tree, shed when the bark is cut and the tree tries to cure its wounds by seeping lacquer. It feels so real and so alive. Science tries to explain it this way: urushi hardens at 70% humidity and 77°F temperature. But there is more to it than that. Same goes for wood. I ask a wooden base, ‘Which way do you want to curl?’ The answer is never the same.” – Keikou Nishimura