Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Kintsugi, Japanese aesthetic

Kintsugi is a Japanese method of pottery repair that uses gold and other metal powders mixed with lacquer to highlight the damage befallen a ceramic object and by doing emphasizes the pottery's history and use. Rather than attempting to conceal damage, kintsugi glorifies the object's impermanence and imperfection, its history and enhanced character.

Earlier methods of repair were unsightly metal staples embedded with resin. Kintsugi repairs drew upon the long-established Japanese lacquer technique called maki-e that use metal powders mixed with lacquer resin to produce delicate decorative designs. Different metals are used for various colors.

maki-e bamboo 

Kintsugi repaired tea cup

Kintsugi repaired bowl

Kintsugi repair

Soldering. Sort of. Not really, a paste actually, but it looks so.

The idea is acceptance of imperfection, acknowledgement of transience, and this is the difficult part that has no ready Western equivalence, the aesthetic of beauty that is utterly self-unaware.

An object that is self-unaware, as an ideal. How can inanimate objects be aware? Of course objects are self-unaware. See? Told you that is the hard part.

Kintsugi is an expression of wabi-sabi, the sense of beauty in roughness, irregularity, asymmetry, economy, simplicity, modesty, asperity and the integrity of natural things. 

wabi-sabi bowls

Bowls that appear to have grown out of the ground overnight by themselves like mushrooms and stack imperfectly, that is a beautiful thing for its naturalness. The objects are intimate, they actually make you want to hold them. If you are of that frame of mind. 

My first memory of Japan is the bus ride at night from the airport to our digs at Green Park, gazing out the window studying the place taking it in all at once, I was appalled, flatly let down, nothing at all like the photos I saw, the whole place seemed impoverished, the houses unpainted. No paint! No color. Plain wooden houses with no color at all, just the natural wood showing everywhere, the fences, the gates, porches, windows, no paint whatsoever. Mum told me, and she's no anthropologist, "That is their idea of beauty" and I thought in that moment, "This is going to be a long three years." 

They do use paint, of course, I just didn't see much of it the first bus ride. It did take a while to get used to.

Now, this idea of imperfection being beautiful is useful in my own art where I replicate Egyptian frescos, and I am certain it is the imperfections that sell and certainly not their perfection. This idea did not come easily to me either. It was exceedingly difficult to paint or worse carve a plaster then purposefully break it in pieces like a jigsaw puzzle. The breaks guided as well as possible, then live with the result however messy or impossible to reconstruct. I quickly realized those cracks are everything, they totally make the piece, without breaks without damage my art is nothing, and the technique is useful besides to eliminate a bad spot, say a poorly drawn eye, by bashing it out and affect a repair in the spot with new plaster and new paint and leave the repair obvious as if a museum repaired it, without added patina or stain to blend in, as museums do to declare the repaired area rather than conceal it, thereby adding another layer of history, in my case false history. It is very convincing.

And fun.

One need not be artist to invite imperfection, or incompleteness, to take up this idea has application all around. One needn't chuck a cereal bowl because of its chip, rather welcome that imperfection and regard it still useful, regard as survivor and attractive for its history and its humbleness.

The imperfect branch with its imperfect flower. The idea of fence that fails to contain, but does block the view of something unsightly. The idea of wrapping a gift with no intention whatever of concealing its contents. 

I bought a book on Japanese idea of gift wrapping and used some of the ideas the book showed, how to wrap bottles, using fabric instead of paper, searching for unwrapper-like materials, screening, natural materials, folding pleats, leaving it open so part of the contents show through. The author stated something that stuck, that Westerners will purchase an extraordinarily expensive gift, like a Rolex watch that comes in its own special elaborate keepsake watch-box then wrap the gift in cheap thoughtless paper, sealed completely shut tight to conceal it. The Japanese style of wrapping gifts in some cases became more interesting to the recipient than the gift it contained. My wrapping became subject of conversation more so than the gift. And I found it impossible to keep a copy of the book. So far every woman who has looked through the book showed such an interest that I felt compelled to give it to her. Some four or five, so far. The book itself has became an impressive gift. That is what they told me. They couldn't believe I just gave them the book. 

This book is a treasure. It changed my gift-wrapping life. Available for 1₵, this world is irrational, plus shipping which turns out to be $4.00 at Amazon and $3.47 at Abebooks. 


Chip Ahoy said...

I got a ticket today. I got a ticket to rye-eye-eye- eyed. Speeding. 50 in a 35. And the whole time I thought that jerk in front of me was just blocking my way, such a dummkopf, zoomed around him, BOOM, ticket.

Evi L. Bloggerlady said...

Maybe you can make something out of your ticket?

rhhardin said...

The Japanese are also responsible for the water bomb and the cootie catcher.

Chip Ahoy said...

Bloggerlady, I did! except my scribblings were far less artistic.

"RIP OFF" in magic marker

check for: "money grabbing bureaucrats"

5 years ago my truck's registration was $45.00 this year $75.00

emissions inspection denied because brake light on.

(emissions inspection, not brake function inspection)

Drive to fix brake light, got speeding ticket $165.00 + 2 pts (down from 4 pts)

Fix brake light problem which turned out to be low brake fluid. $85.00.

Still don't have inspection. $25.00 plus two drives back and forth to distant inspection site to avoid long lines at nearest inspection site. The whole thing positively obnoxious.

All my unartistic scribblings on their paperwork mark me as straightup crackpot, because, I am.

And I'm likely to get another speeding ticket because I'm still cross with the whole thing and still a crackpot.

Mumpsimus said...

Like other aspects of classical Japanese culture (e.g. the tea ceremony), a way to find virtue in necessity, and beauty in the exigencies of poverty.

Someone should launch a New American Aesthetic that sees the subtle beauty in darned socks and fenders patched with Bondo. Might make us happier with our lot.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Bummer. Did you place your hands on the wheel while the officer walks up to your vehicle? Place them at 10 and 2. It's a sign of respect that they appreciate and I highly recommend it.
I have gotten out of 2 speeding tickets that way. Then again, it could be because I'm cute. Or it could be because I made the one officer laugh. He said to me - "You should have seen the look on your face." He couldn't stop laughing.

I have to fix everything now.

Lakesidepottery said...

Dear Lem,

Your post is great although it is the proper and morally correct practice to mention the artist you have borrowed his/her work to advance your cause.

The kintsugi bowl shown on your post (spiderweb like) is a pot I made, broke and repaired using a
kintsugi mending process in our studio.

A credit to Lakeside Pottery and it's restoration studio with a direct link to the following link is greatly appreciated:

Kindly, Morty and Patty

Lakeside Pottery Ceramic Restoration Studio
543 Newfield Avenue
Stamford, CT 06905