Graduating in 2008 with a master of fine arts from Kyoto City University of Arts, contemporary urushi lacquerware artist Genta Ishizuka held his first international solo exhibition in London last year. This year he received Kyoto City’s Best Young Artist Award; then the prestigious and lucrative Loewe Foundation Craft Prize for craft and design excellence. Around 15 of his recent works are now on show in “Polyphase Membrane,” a solo exhibition at Artcourt Gallery, in Osaka, until Sept. 21.
Ishizuka established himself after graduation with black-and-red lacquer panels decorated with knife blades, needles, paper clips, and washers. For him, the shiny and reflective metal objects were a contemporary corollary to the more traditional materials of lacquer decoration like mother-of-pearl and precious metal powders. Comparable works on show are the black lacquer panels “Poly phase” (2019) and “Dual Phase #1” (2019), both of which utilize silver and gold washers arranged into clusters, with the larger ones at center and the smaller ones on the periphery. The visual effect is one of dark surfaces that are both lustrous and absorptive, while the decorative washer configurations suggest cosmic explosions and dispersion.
Ishizuka was awarded the Loewe Foundation Craft Prize for “Surface Tactility #11” (2018), one of a series of works that he began in 2015. Basing the works on the shapes of mesh bags filled with oranges, he recreated the forms in wire and Styrofoam balls, covered them in linen as a support, and applied multiple layers of kanshitsu (dry lacquer) over several months — a technique used in Japan from the seventh century to reproduce Buddhist sculpture from China. Ishizuka then polished the surfaces to glossy, seamless lacquer membranes. He conceives of the application of lacquer not as a final process that covers a supporting structure, but as surface accretions generating the sculptural form enclosed within.
Though “Surface Tactility #11” is not included in the exhibition, “Surface Tactility #12” and “#15” are — both freestanding sculptures made this year, the latter being the height of a small adult. Because lacquer is translucent, it tends to draw the viewer’s gaze into the depth of its layers. And because it is also reflective, the sculpture’s surroundings can be seen shimmering across the surface. These reflections are distorted on the soft, protuberant curves as spectators move around the sculpture, changing their viewpoints. Experiencing Ishizuka’s sculptures is to experience these multiple “phases” of optical phenomena, hence the exhibition title.
Another smaller-scale series is “Untitled (Hung in a Box)” (2019). These works replicate the steps in the kanshitsu application process used for “Surface Tactility” sculptures but are finished in gold leaf and set within Edo Period and Meiji Era (1603-1912) masu (wooden measuring boxes), sourced from antique stores. Hung on the gallery walls, these pieces were engendered by Ishizuka’s discovery of kakebotoke (hanging deity) votive plaques and the custom of praying to small sculptures of Ebisu, the god of prosperity, which were also placed within masu boxes.
In referencing such observances, and in drawing upon the Buddhist sculpture-related kanshitsu technique, Ishizuka has been quietly insisting upon the historical linkages that tie his artistic medium of choice to elements of religious faith.
“Genta Ishizuka: Polyphase Membrane” at Artcourt Gallery runs until Sept. 21; free. For more information, visit www.artcourtgallery.com.