Go East: ’Encounters’ is a startling survey of contemporary Japanese creativity

Go East: ’Encounters’ is a startling survey of contemporary Japanese creativity

On show at the Dutko Gallery’s London outpost, ‘Encounters’ is a deeply engaging and multi-faceted survey of Japanese art and design, from the 1930s until the present day.

The show’s lynchpin is the work of Katsu Hamanaka. A lacquerer and art deco maven, his reputation and accomplished practice are all the more astonishing for the minute size of his oeuvre. Emigrating to Paris in 1934, Hamanaka acted under the tutelage of master lacquerer Seizo Sugawara and created some of the finest – and rarest – work of the era. The three-panel gold leaf and black lacquered screen (c.1928) on show here is a salient example; elegant and aesthetically austere, it perfectly embodies the symbiotic relationship between contemporary Eastern and Western traditions. ’For me Hamanaka best represents the bridge between East and West, particularly during the short period of Art Deco,’ explains Jean-Jacques Dutko. ’The sofa currently on display is an exceptional work, fully wrapped in shagreen. Here Hamanaka used different techniques, from polychrome to eggshell lacquer, creating a beautiful mosaic of stingray shagreen tinted with graphite lacquer.’

Hamanaka may be the show’s star billing, but there’s plenty else to pique interest. American Craft pioneer George Nakashima’s 1978 ‘R Bench’ is a picture of rustic simplicity (though, alas, not one seen clambered on by William Wegman’s boisterous Weimaraners in our October 2015 shoot); while the furniture offering takes a turn for the contemporary with Masayoshi Nakajo’s ‘The Cat’, 2015, its abstracted feline forms rendered in black laquerware – a modern expression of the traditional Kawatsura style, dating back to 1200.

As one might expect, ceramics and sculptural forms play a large part. Koike Shoko’s eldritch botanical pieces are imbued with a Triffids-style air of unease; Chieko Katsumata’s Akoda pumpkin is rather plumper, but equally discomforting. All are meticulously realised.

Haruhiko Kaneko, meanwhile, creates fluid-looking and bowls and vases inspired by the ocean (and is one of only a dozen extant practitioners to use the ancient Uteki Tenmoku ‘drop of oil’ technique). Sweeter still are Isao Sugiyama’s Santuario sculptures – tiny, superannuated buildings carved into slabs of marble.

The offering continues in fine fettle, with contributions including Hitomi Uchikura’s embossed paperwork, Kuigmachi Akira’s meditative, gradiated paintings and Takesada Matsutani’s monochrome masterpiece Two circles, from 2010, proving particularly alluring.

Aside from the sheer aesthetic eclecticism, the essential underlay to the Dutko show is the poeticism and visionary singularity of the works on display. Here in the West, the rich history and geographic cross-pollination of Japanese creative traditions are often pinned to anachronistic craft and minimalism. ‘Encounters’ explodes this reductive viewpoint. ’Staging the works of these incredible artists has been one of my favourite challenges,’ says Dutko. ’Removing the sense of time and space, allowing the works to speak and create a dialogue - it’s part of the fun of being an art dealer.’

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