A Matter of Taste

A bowl…
When I visited Ryuji Ikehata’s workshop in Wajima, my eye immediately fell on this half-finished soup bowl, seen here upside down.  The colouring looked good and the fact that some of the wood of the carcass was showing really appealed to me—as I thought highly unusual for a piece of Wajima lacquerware.

The adapted drill on which to turn a bowl so that the ground can be applied also intrigued me.

The black foot and lip are covered with a loose material fixed to the carcass with lacquer.  This is done so as to strengthen the weakest points.  I assumed that these areas would be finished with glossy black lacquer and that several applications of raw, moderately transparent lacquer would be used on the body of the bowl to highlite rather than hide the grain and tooling.

I was interested to see just how the bowl turned out and asked Ryuji for a photograph.  What a surprise it was to see it finished in red.

The somewhat rustic appearance of the bowl in its half finished state had vanished under the red lacquer, giving the bowl a lighter and unexpected elegant appearance.

Ryuji Ikehata Photo © Copyright

Ryuji was unsurprised by my suggestion that it would look better in black with the wood grain exposed.  But he says that he sells three times as many red items as black ones.  Why?  Well, for one reason, red is a colour of celebrations in Japan.

“It’s a matter of taste” is something we often hear.  “Each to his own” in other words.  These are usually expressions of personal taste but here it could perhaps be termed “national taste”.

The unfinished black bowl has a “folkcraft” character and in conducive surroundings could look wonderful.  The red bowl to me is a trifle characterless and yet beautifully finished.  The carving of the body is somehow wasted but made the most of in the unfinished bowl.

I suppose there  is no right or wrong answer to this dilemma.  Make both!  Well yes but the manufacture of a piece of lacquerware is costly in both time and money.  Ryuji feels it might have been better to have decorated the bowl more, thus justifying the price.  I feel that more options should be offered so as to perhaps attract a younger buyer, for example.  After all, the “vintage look” is popular at present.  Although a stressed finish would certainly not be acceptable for a car, for some tableware and interior decorating items it is highly fashionable.  Whether or not it is your taste is a different matter.

I just feel that it is a pity that lacquerware does not try to break into this area of market trends and offer more options.  But in the end its all a matter of taste.

Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright

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