Detail: When Western adventurers first arrived in Japan in the 16th century, they found an advanced society in which the arts played a central role. Lacquer – an unknown material in the West – produced objects with a brilliant, glowing, finish, creating mirror-like surfaces that drew the viewer into the infinite space between light and shadow. The traditional jet-black backgrounds with luxurious gold decoration shimmered in the low-level candlelight of 16th-century interiors, and quickly found a market with the western aristocracy.
Lacquer is extremely versatile as a medium – capable of replicating a range of disparate materials, such as wood and iron, including its rusting decay, and enabling sculptural form through meticulous carving or flowing organic forms.
As viewers we can reflect on many levels triggered by our interaction with an artwork. Mere age can prompt reflection on constancy and survival through the centuries. Everyday acts turned into artforms – such as exquisite writing sets or items used in the Tea Ceremony – invite us to ponder societal differences and life’s rituals. It prompts us to examine how we live and what is of enduring value.