Friday, December 26, 2014

Nothing Less Than Perfection: The Dedication of Japan’s Master Craftsmen

Tekumi Manabu Ikeda can take years to finish one of his renowned detailed paintings. Via.

The work is done, but just one small detail seems off. If no one notices, is it worth fixing?

In Japan, the answers to questions like these are what separate an ordinary artisan from takumi – masters of their craft.

Takumi are artists who have honed and perfected their skills over years, perhaps a lifetime, of training. They can be craftsmen, potters, and textile makers, among many other professions, and are a major part of Japanese tradition. Though their numbers have dwindled, there are still many active takumi who remain dedicated to their craft. In contemporary Japan, the term has acquired a more generic adjectival meaning, implying a person with an especially sophisticated skill in any field of creation, including food and fashion.

These masters are known for dedication to their philosophies and methods of art-making, and the artists featured in Japan Society’s Garden of Unearthly Delights are no exception. Each artist possesses traits common to all takumi: perfectionism, diligence, and most importantly, discipline.

Manabu Ikeda exemplifies this with his incredibly detailed drawing style that is extremely time-consuming to achieve; one large-scale work can take him two or more years to complete. Using a fine-point pen, Ikeda creates monumental landscapes that can overwhelm the viewer at first glance.

Hisashi Tenmyouya is a different kind of takumi who skillfully blends tradition with modern themes. His works juxtapose traditional symbols and imagery with a brash, contemporary style that he calls Neo Nihonga―a renewed, revitalized version of Japanese-style painting.

TeamLab is a collective of hundreds of takumi working in various areas of art, design and technology. Via

Like Tenmyouya, teamLab blends the old and the new, but follows a more technology-oriented path. As an expansive collective of creators from varying specialties (it now has over 300 members), it’s a far cry from the traditional solitary image of takumi, but when looking at the amazingly high-tech work the members have created, it’s hard to deny that they’re just as deserving of the title.

Discussing takumi in the catalog for Garden of Unearthly Delights,  exhibition co-curator Laura J. Mueller said the works "are imbued with an undeniable spirituality or religiosity that adds great weight to their effectiveness and meaning."

Japan Society has presented many exhibitions featuring takumi in recent years. Contemporary Clay: Japanese Ceramics for the New Century (2006) exhibited some of Japan’s finest potters and celebrated the rich history of Japanese ceramics and those who have made lasting contributions to the art form over the past half century.

The Genius of Japanese Lacquer: Masterworks by Shibata Zeshin (2008) showcased Japan’s greatest lacquer artist, recognized worldwide for his exquisitely detailed lacquered boxes, panels, sword mounts, and other objects, as well as scrolls painted in both ink and lacquer.

And New Bamboo: Contemporary Japanese Masters (2009) was devoted exclusively to Japanese bamboo as a sculptural medium, which featured 90 works from 23 innovators who demonstrate awesome technique, meticulous attention to detail, and extraordinary creativity.

As takumi tend to be innovators, each of them have wildly different and recognizable styles, such as Ikeda’s; once you’ve been mesmerized by one of his massive drawings, you’re not likely to forget it.

However, there’s one thing they all share: an obsession with perfection, the results of which we’ll be able to appreciate for years to come.

--Mark Gallucci

Tenmyouya at work. Via.

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