Thursday Salute to Originals: Lacquer Wares, An Ancient Art Invention

On Tuesday of this week, we shared on Twitter some amazing three-dimensional goldfish art pieces painted by a Japanese artist Riusuke Fukahori and we all loved it. There’re always some ancient oriental art forms and techniques that just never fail to wow us. I came across this collection of Japanese lacquer wares which was on exhibition during New York’s Asia Week 2011 and was totally blown away.

Lacquer is a liquid exuded from certain lacquer trees growing in East Asia that dries and darkens in color (another definition is “a liquid made of shellac dissolved in alcohol, or of synthetic substances”, according to the dictionary). It produces a durable coating for wood or metal and can be polished in any sheen level desired. Modern application of lacquer onto furniture can add a hint of exotic touch to highlight those pieces and make them stand out.

Above: Sun and Moon Box,Yoshio Okada (b. 1977)

This elegant-looking cherry blossom writing box (intended to store ink stone and brush) is coated with high-quality polished black lacquer with a décor of cherry blossoms all over its five sides. Cherry blossom is the national flower of Japan and it stands for transient beauty. The flower petals are painted with gold lacquer of two tones.

Above: Cherry Blossom Writing Box, Anonymous lacquer artist

The Deer Writing Box is painted in a gold lacquer ground and the deer are formed in carved mother-of-pearl and pewter. The inside cover is decorated with a stylized current in inlaid pewter.

Above: Deer Writing Box, Soeki (ac. Meiji period)

The Japanese seem to have a special interest in goldfish. What’s a better medium than black lacquer to bring this little creature’s color and movement to life? The contrast in color and the placement of the swimming goldfish on top and sides make the whole tea caddy playful yet graceful.

Above: Koi Tea Caddy, Mushu Yamazaki (b. 1966)

I’m very intrigued by the glossy finish lacquer creates on these wood surfaces, reflecting light and making the object appear more rare.  Here at GPI, we are all about innovative surfaces. So I can’t help thinking maybe lacquer can be applied to certain translucent surfaces to be used for backlighting and it may produce unexpected results. Have you ever seen any backlit panels that incorporated lacquer? Or do you think it would be a possibility? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

(To read more on this Japanese lacquer ware collection, please visit
and download Erik Thomsen’s article “Golden Treasures: Japanese Gold Lacquer Boxes”)

Image Credits: Erik Thomsen, “Golden Treasures: Japanese Gold Lacquer Boxes”