Lacquer has been used traditionally in Japan as a varnish coating for thousands of years. It’s adorned everything from Buddhist artifacts to tableware. But Kyoto-based artist Genta Ishizuka has been exploring the sculptural qualities of lacquer, known as urushi in Japan, proving that old traditions of making can still surprise us as being radical and contemporary.

Surface Tactility #11 (2018) won the Loewe Foundation’s 2019 Craft Prize

Ishizuka uses styrofoam balls to create the shape of his sculptures, which he then covers with a stretchable fabric. Once the form is secure, he paints over it with layers of lacquer, creating a surreal balance between texture and form. Ishizuka has said that he was originally inspired by the shape of a bag of oranges.

Ishizuka’s efforts in furthering the craft of lacquerware was recognized by the judges of the Loewe Foundation, who recently awarded the artist with top prize in their 2019 Craft Prize. Jonathan Anderson, Loewe creative director, commented: “Ishizuka’s work proves that craft can be open and shows the freedom of creation. His use of an ancient lacquer technique in a contemporary form breaks conventions and represents a new sculptural vision in craft.”

Surface Tactility #3 (2017) – photo by Takeru Koroda

Installation views of “Membrane” at Erskine Hall & Coe in London (2018) – photos by Andy Stagg