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A review of the exhibition ‘URUSHI Wajima’ that was held from September 14 to October 26, 2019 at Gallery FUMI in London.

Urushi Chair

Urushi Chair. Images Courtesy of Kate Anglestein for Gallery FUMI

In a video by Japan Craft, one comes to understand the practice of ‘Urushi’ as something that is painstaking, beautiful and intricately ancient. It is essentially the Japanese practice of applying lacquer to a wooden object, but every layer is different and applied by different masters. The practice of Urushi is slow and definitive but the end product is so sturdy that it endures for years.

It is a collaborative practice, no doubt, and after being passed through different masters’ hands, the work often comes to fruition after months of finishing touches and care; something that is thoroughly lost to the modern eye and understanding. Perhaps that is why Max Lamb’s works in ‘URUSHI Wajima’ at Gallery FUMI, is more important now than ever. Since 2013, Lamb has been travelling to Wajima in Ishikawa prefecture, Japan, to work with the craft of urushi lacquer.

Wajima-nuri Bowls

Wajima-nuri Bowls. Images Courtesy of Kate Anglestein for Gallery FUMI

‘Max is most comfortable being a Swiss-army knife of one. He makes everything himself, learning to use and brilliantly misuse tools and techniques. With URUSHI, however, he surrendered to an ancient method that is collaborative, in which a woodworker brings a wooden bowl, cabinet, table or stool to his neighbour who applies an urushi undercoat. They then take it to the other side of town to several craftspeople who in turn cover the previous artisans’ work in additional coats of lacquer. Each layer disappears below the next, until the last layer of urushi is finally perfected by one of the only two remaining polishers in Wajima who gives the inimitable shine of urushi by polishing the object with his printless fingertips. This slow human conveyor belt will last months as each layer of urushi dries the way nature intended, in actual time,’ explained the gallery.

Urushi Stool

Urushi Stool. Images Courtesy of Kate Anglestein for Gallery FUMI

As we look upon the vessels and bowls, carefully crafted and sitting on large lacquered tables, we are taken in by the display itself. Simple and informative, the installation is hard to look away from, as the lacquer gleams cross our line of vision. The collaborative forces are what make the work far more nuanced, even though they may be subtle. Not only is the audience pulled into the spectacle, but is also informed of a much deeper practice at hand. As the pieces sit quietly in the gallery, they are not quiet at all. They call to the dying practice of the Urushi craft by simply showing us the elegance of endurance.

Installation view, URUSHI Wajima at Gallery FUMI London All Images Courtesy of Kate Anglestein for Gallery FUMI

Installation view, URUSHI Wajima at Gallery FUMI London. Image Courtesy of Kate Anglestein for Gallery FUMI
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