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Tracing Venice

Isao Onishi


Isao Onishi, an accomplished urushi lacquerware craftsman, undertakes the whole process of his creations himself, from moulding cypress wood planks and applying base coating to layering and finishing the lacquer coats. After leaving school at the age of 13, Isao Ōnishi made his way to the ancient capital of Japan, Kamakura, where he came upon a master woodcarver, Kiuchi Seigaku. He studied with him for five years. He then chanced upon his future master, Akaji Yūsai, himself designated as a National Living Treasure in 1974, while attending a lecture on lacquer. Ōnishi studied under him for ten years until Akaji Yūsai’s death. He has continued to work on, and develop, the techniques transmitted to him by his master and applies his many and varied experiences to his work.

National Living Treasure - the category of kyūshitsu
Japanese government

Isao Onishi became completely entranced with kyushitsu, a specific lacquering technique, as well as the magewa-zukuri bentwood technique. He creates his own tools, sources his own lacquer as well as wood to create spectacular utensils. He first decides on the thickness of the cypress wood that he files down with a hand plane. He then soaks the wood in water heated to 80 degrees in order to bend it to a circular form. He then dries the wood, making sure it does not warp as it dries. Some pieces will be dried for over 20 years. The wood will not move after this! The hoops are slotted together, with over 50 hoops layered at times.

Technique Kyushitsu lacquering Objects The Ateliers of Wonders Exhibition 12 Stone Garden Exhibition Contact
Kamakura, Japan

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