Nishimura Keikou Lacquer worker
Introduce lacquer into daily life
ーWhat kind of work do you often do?
We divide processes to make lacquer. Usually, one lacquer is made by three workers; a wood carving worker, a lacquer painter, and a gold lacquer painter.
In ancient times in Kyoto, we had patrons, such as warriors and emperors, and workers made lacquers for them. Although the number of patrons has decreased these days, there are some patrons in the tea ceremony world, and we make for them.
I am the third president of our workshop, and we specialize in finishing coat (uwashinuri). We mainly make tea things, especially tea containers.
In addition to tea containers, we make utensil stands and hearth frames. I do both painting lacquering as a lacquer worker and creating original works as an artist named Nishimura Keikou.
ーYou have launched a new brand for the general public.
Yes. Usually, general people do not use tea items that we make.
I sought the way to make lacquerware much closer to their daily life and decided to launch “tenun (天雲)” brand which uses charcoal polishing up technique.
In this technique we paint lacquer on wood again and again. By doing this process, the surface would have the texture of mat. I am the supervisor and my wife is the produce of this brand.
We make lacquerwares which go well with Western plates. We ask young artisans to make these products, because we want to train young people through this project.
We don’t design from the beginning, but refer traditional designs. Many antiques are very useful and these designs are great.
We like to reproduce these antiques at people’s dining table. For example, we make Aoume-plate for dry confectionary by using charcoal polishing up technique, and we also copied Dutch pewter plate.
Fascinated by lacquer when he touched a lacquerware for the first time
ーYour family members are lacquer workers. Is this the reason why you became a worker as well?
Both my father and grandfather specialized in uwashinuri, which is the process of finishing coat. We need to close all windows and doors of the room when we do this work, in order to avoid dust.
Because of that, I was not allowed to enter the workshop when I was a child. My father wanted me to succeed him, so I was already decided to enter the department of lacquer at Doda Art High School when I was a schoolchild.
I was not good at art, but I managed to enter the high school and touched lacquer ware for the first time at school.
Then, I thought “This is interesting.” This first feeling became the trigger to become a lacquer worker. Even now, I have the same thought, and this is why I keep doing this job.
ーI see. Your feeling at the high school still motivates you. Did you start to work under his father after that?
My father wanted me to gain experience in a different place for studying lacquer after graduating high school.
I became an apprentice of Suzuki Hyosaku the third. He was the best lacquer worker in Kyoto and was a great artist at the same time.
He taught me so many things in 9 years. He succeed the name Suzuki Hyosaku, and his real name was Suzuki Masaya.
He used his real name as an artisan and he did a lot of avant-garde work since when he was young. He was quite novel.
Since my master was such a person, I learned not only tea things, but also artistic works. He trained me from various angles.
ーWhat is the most impressive or important memory in the 9 years?
My master hammered the skill of making tea container into me, and that is the most impressive for me. People have produced tea containers for more than 400 years, and there are so many masterpieces made by people in the past.
I have to make tea containers which are equivalent to these works, and I also want my tea containers to be treasured for the next 400 years. So there is no clear goal.
Uses all techniques he has to make one tea container
ーWhat is important to make tea containers as a lacquer worker?
It’s only tea container, but still tea container. When I appreciate people’s piece, I ascertain whether it has a soul or not.
Based on this judgement, I see the characteristic of each work. There are a lot of beautiful tea containers in the world.
It is difficult to ascertain good or bad, especially Shin-nuri tea container, since it is black without any design. I think whether the painter made it with his soul or not is an important point to judge these tea containers.
In my case, I take more than 1 year to make a tea container. Tea containers gradually become my original work by patting, painting, and sharpening again and again.
By doing so, tea containers naturally give off a conspicuous aura. Every great tea container gives off the similar aura.
ー I see. Then, what do you produce as an artist?
I do “tawame.” The characteristic of wood in Kyoto is its thinness. I ask kijiya (woodworker) to saw as thin as he can until wood will be transparent.
Then I fit it in mould and paint it. Wood always tries to keep the actual shape even when it was sawn very thinly. The balance of wood’s reaction and lacquer’s adhesion forms an organic shape.
I think lacquer artists like me are just like mediators for these two powers. This work has a lot of joys which are different from creating new works.
Establish lacquer as an art
ーAre you thinking about working overseas?
I suppose Some Japanese items are in fashion in foreign countries these days. Japanese workers make products by using special techniques which were already lost in different countries.
Lacquer is especially special because it is created only in Asia. There are many people who want to collect them.
It is great for Japanese products to be evaluated in overseas. However, the difference between “fine-art” and “craft-art” is very vague in Japanese crafts.
In Japan, the word “craft” refers to many things: artistic activity which requires aesthetic sense, various material, and techniques; miscellaneous goods which produced in large quantities; and folky furniture. I think it is too vague and weak to work in the world.
We make products with lacquer, hemp, and mountain soil. These materials do not use oil even in the present age.
And we use high techniques which have been passed down from generation to generation. Making good products is just the minimum requirement. We need to think about how we express our tradition.
ーLastly, please tell me what you want to do in the future.
I want to sell lacquer ware in other countries although I understand it is difficult. Foreign countries are attractive for me, especially China.
China is a big market, off course. In addition, it is the origin of lacquer. Lacquer was first introduced from China to Japan.
However, the technique to make lacquerware has already been lost in China. Because of that, I suggest it is easy for Chinese to accept lacquer culture.
I would like to expand the market to such countries.
1966 born as the oldest son of Nishimura Keikou the second
1985 graduated from the Department of Lacquer at Kyoto Municipal Doda Art High School and became a
pupil of Suzuki Hyosaku the third
1994 became independent as the successor of his family business
2003 recognized as a “traditional craft artisan” by Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry
2008 succeeded to the name of Nishimura Keikou the third
2010 the joint exhibition “Raku and Urushi” at Espace Culturel Bertin Poiree, Paris
2013 Collect 2013 at Saatchi Gallery, London
2014 exhibition “Beauty of Material” at Galerie Marianne Heller, Heidelberg, Germany
exhibition “One Lacquer, One Confectionary” at Nihonbashi
2015 Displayed “Shanghai Creators” at Kyoto Lacquer Exhibition and received Kyoto Governor Prize
2016 Received Kyoto Mayor Prize at Kyoto Lacquer Exhibition
Solo exhibition at Kaho Gallery
Nishimura Keikou Lacquer Workshop
founded by Nishimura Keikou the first in Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto Citiy in 1920s.
They created dining plates and tea things as professionals of finishing coat.
Nishimura Keikou mastered not only the process of finishing coat, but also all processes of making tea container. He also works as an artist. He especially focuses on a special technique called “tawame.”
Nishimura Keikou Lacquer Workshop
Shimofusa Machi 16-4, Koyama, Kita Ward, Kyoto City
Editor: Kawamoto Kaede
Photographer: Tayasu Hitoshi