Post 704  –by Gautam Shah


This article is compiled from several Internet resources and my own lecture notes on Surface Finishes.

1 Footed Tray with Figures in a Landscape and Symbols of Seven Immortals LACMA

2 Footed Tray

Ryukyuan lacquerware (Ryukyu no Shikki) is the chief craft product of the Ryukyu Islands (Okinawa Prefecture of Japan). Shikki incidentally, stands for lacquerware. Ryukyuan lacquerware represents a unique form and style distinct from the neighbouring places. These have three distinguishing features: the brilliant red colour of the background, gold patterns and use of inlay of mother of pearl. Many items and techniques of making the lacquerware of Ryukyuan, elsewhere in Japan and China are common. ‘Ryukyuan lacquers, yet, are neither purely Chinese nor purely Japanese’. The craft of making or decorating with lacquer is common in many Asian countries.

3 Red lacquer tray with gold engraving Song Dynasty

The art of Lacquerware came to Japan with Buddhism in mid 6th C from China through Korea. When Okinawa was the Ryukyu Kingdom, the lacquer items also came through trade with China during 14th and 15th C. Ryukyuan artisans over the years while exploiting, both the local and imported materials, matured the lacquerware into an ethnic craft by using Ryukyuan motifs.

21 Bowl with cover from Okinawa, 18th C Mother of Pearl Inlay work Wikipedia Image by Hiart Honolulu u_Museum_of_Art

20 Mother of Pearl

4 Lacquer case

Ryukyu, lacquerware have over the years seen several political upheavals, forcing imposition of new styles, but yet the most popular red lacquerware has survived such vagaries. During the 17th and 18th C, following the invasion of Okinawa by Satsuma the Chinese style black lacquerware production was made mandatory. It resulted in mixing up of Ryukyuan and Chinese styles lacquerware in single pieces.

5 Red Lacquer Cabinet with Butterflies

In Ryukyu, lacquerware like cups and bowls were used for offerings in religion rituals, whereas items such as necklaces and decorative utilitarian articles were offered for political gratification. The descendants of Ryukyu samurai and royalty used the lacquerware in formal places in order to forge a connection between people and the Gods. The royal Sho family of the former Ryukyu Kingdom have a set of lacquerware luncheon-basket, leg bowl and wine cups, cherished as the national cultural asset.

6 Chest with Peonies motifs LACMA

Ryukyu lacquerware, over the ages, have seen several modifications. These were, in earlier periods due to the change in patronage by the rulers and also inclusion of new patterns, materials and techniques in the repertoire. In modern times these have been mainly markets driven changes. ‘Chinkin’, the gold inlayed items had traditional vermilion and additional green lacquer. ‘Raden’ the flaked seashells inlayed articles were produced in red lacquer. In later periods Raden pieces were produced with green turban or marine snail shell over black lacquer. From 18th C other techniques were used, such as Hakue (foil lacquering) and Tsuikin (red lacquerware with raised designs). After the annexation of the Ryukyu Kingdom in 1879, Ryukyu lacquerware began to be produced by private workshops and companies.

7 Cosmetic box Kamakura period 13th C plover design in Maki-e Lacquer Tokyo National Museum

4x5 original

Hakue consists of painting a design in lacquer with a makizutsu or a kebo brush and then applying gold leaf or gold-silver powder while the lacquer is half dry. Modern method uses gold, silver, copper, brass, lead, aluminum, platinum, and pewter, as well as their alloys. The Maki-e method was initially used to decorate arms like swords, but adopted over lacquered surfaces.

8 Sutra Box Buddhist with Gold Ming Dynasty

Chinkin (Qiangjin in Chinese) technique is submerging or sinking gold as leaf or powder into carved cinnabar red-lacquered surfaces. This required very fine knife engraving work onto a polished surface. Ryukyu craft-persons preferred a variation of relief building the designs with lacquer putty, called Tsuikin, over the original Chinese method of lacquer (tsuishu) carving. Tsuikin, post 18th C is more common method. Thin sheets of Lacquer mixed with pigments are rolled out. From these various motifs are cut and applied to the craft-item. Due to its easy process, the Tsuikin is very popular process. Hananuri uses the contrast between vermilion and black lacquer. Raden uses seashell flake for inlay work. Mitsudae is a method oil painting (with lead-based pigments) motifs like flowers, birds and skies with white, pink and other bright pastel colours or coloured lacquers (iro-urushie).

10 Modern Vietnam Banana leaf motif in Gold leaf on a red background 1953

In the Heian period (794-1185), when in Japanese history Buddhism, Taoism and other Chinese influences were at their peak, sacred vessels and other articles used by temples of various faiths were of Maki-e style lacquerware. Similarly aristocrats, samurai families, merchants and artisan classes were using Maki-e style items as status symbol and proud possessions.

11 Dish (Pan)With Dragon amid Clouds LACMA

The lacquerware have evolved with many decorating techniques.

Lacquer as a raw material (resinous exudate or secretion of insects flourishing on certain trees), is not local. The material was brought to Okinawa through trade. Exclusive officers were appointed to supervise the production of lacquerware in the Ryukyu Kingdom.

12 Chest with Cartouche Figures on Donkeys in a Landscape Magnolias Plum Blossoms Peonies Birds and Butterflies LACMA

Local woods of Okinawa, such as Deigo coral tree, Sendan or bead tree, Egokoki, Gajumaru, with uniform grains are used.

13 Seal Box with Lotus scrolls & Eight buddhist symbols Red lacquerincised with Gold Qiangjin style

■ Okinawa islands are part of the northern limit of Black sea current which offers the hardest turban shells. Use of wafer-shin shell, prepared by boiling the shell in water for about a week and then pulverizing it (mijingai-nuri) is a local technique. The mix of pulverized shell and lacquer, after applications are rubbed to make a smooth surface (roiro-togidashi).

19 Korean Box, Lacquer inlaid with mother-of-pearl and tortoise shell

15 Gold Lacquer work Tray Japan 19 C

Ryukyu, lacquerware motifs include papaya, plantain, palm trees, hibiscus chrysanthemums, peonies, and other representations of islands’ coastal zone flora. Similarly local and exotic birds and animals, such as long-tailed hens, wagtails (genus Motacilla), chicken, swallows, wagtails, sparrows, mandarin ducks, peacocks and peonies, and a fictional phoenix is found here. Designs that combine and depict flowers and birds are called kachō-zu. Many non local motifs were included to serve the export markets.

Digital Capture

17 Channapatna India Lacquer coated toys

Lacquer coating is common in many parts of the world. Thin lacquer coatings or as applied in multiple layers, nominally do not crack or peel off the surface. Lacquers with additives like wax or oil as plasticizing agents can be applied on many surfaces.

16 Sake Bowls with Lacquer motifs

Shellacs finishes, were the first true clear coatings. Sankheda (Gujarat India) furniture and Chinese lacquer items are examples of shellac coatings. Shellac is a very effective coating material even in very thin viscosity, as a result its penetration and filling capacity is excellent. It is eminently recoatable so a very level and glossy surface is possible. Modern synthetic version NC (nitro-cellulose) lacquer provides a very clear and superior film compared to a shellac and maleic modified resins. Lacquers are modified with alkyds, other synthetic resins and plasticizer so as to control adhesion, softness, toughness and malleability. At fixed levels of viscosities it is possible to formulate lacquers with variable solid contents by varying the degree of molecular linkages. This property renders lacquer as the most versatile coating material for wood, metal, metal foil, leather, fabrics, fibers, plastics, stones, metals, glass, masonry, paper, ceramics, grasses (cane, bamboo), human hair and skin.

Lacquerware from across the world

Links to My other articles











Post 703 –by Gautam Shah


8 BMW Welt, Munich, Germany Wikipedia Image by Maximilian Dörrbecker (Chumwa)

In art and design, we deal with forms, as holistic or composed entities. The holistic entities also turn compositions, when these are expressed through contexts like media (frame or the extent), setting (site, environment, landscape, illumination), or referenced (orientation, location, sensorial exposition). The pursuit of creativity is at several stages, in realizing the holistic form or graduating to a state of holism after the composition. The assimilation of several elements into a ‘formal’ composition creates a ‘striking’ arrangement, ‘balanced’ placements and an ‘organization’ with synergy and potency of new possibilities.

10 sage-4331425_640

For holistic forms, the creator, if the scale permits, can roll the entity to have an all-around experience, but the moment it is rested or delivered it gains a setting. For holistic forms that are too large, the roll around occurs over a ground, and that becomes its defacto rest. Holistic forms like sculptures or art installations have no functional livability, but as a static structure must rest and get set. Dynamic entities like balloons, space capsules or stations are rotated axially and sometimes three dimensionally to create a ‘dynamic equilibrium’.

9 Experience Music Project, Seattle,WA,USA Gehry Wikipedia Image by EMP-SFM

For composed entities it is necessary to have a bearing. Primarily it is the ‘ground’ where these sit, tie up or rest. And where such provisions do not exist, the bottom of the composition (closer to the omnipresent gravity) becomes one. Elements of the composition at the lower half of the field are closer to the ground and so perceived to be more static. The stability is also enhanced by elements of composition with mass wider in the lower parts. Inclusion of lighter elements such as air, water, sky, flowers, develops a sense of ethereal floatation. Surreal art has not escaped the gravity.

13A Michelangelo ART Ethereal floatation The Creation of Adam

13 Jeremy geddes defying the Gravity

Holistic or composed entities of art and design can remain personal, if are fleeting expressions. But most other expressions, to reach a wider community, must persist. Grounding is the first step towards the persistence. Grounding is related to the force de majeure, the gravity. Grounding creates a balance. Its lack unnerves our sense of regularity, but its oddity excites us. The balance is about distribution of mass around the vertical and across the perceptible zone. Vertical is the post struggle phase of gaining the equilibrium.

11 When Horses Gallop by Andres Barrioquinto

The height of the vertical is always referenced to the horizontal of the ground. The depth of perception stretches the ground in perspective, and proportionately reduces the vertical.


Some form of equipoise is sought for compositions. The balance with equipoise forms symmetry. For equipoised balance the elements around vertical must remain with it, bearing the same effect of gravity, but their repositioning can cause un-equipoise. The symmetry around the vertical, however, is affected by the position of the vertical in the field of perception.

Delhi, Lotus Temple

7 Holistic form Matrimandir Temple of The Mother Auroville Pondichery India

Symmetry is more apparent in visual fields as two eyes can focus to a single object. Two ears need some attenuation to perceive the balance. For the sensation of touch balanced localization is difficult to achieve. Smell and taste buds have singular identity, but spatially too close for distinctive perception of balance.

15 Paul Klee

The zone of perception varies in extent and over time, mainly due to changes in contextual conditions and environment.

6 46702528731_15c7cc5a6c_c

The holistic entities are of many types, copycats, metaphoric or abstract. Copycats duplicate the original in altered scale, sensory (colour, texture) effects and purposes. The metaphoric expressions could be literal models or images of human or other beings (in natural or grotesque form). The abstract presentations remain obscure for their imagery or meaning.

5 Escultura de Frank Gehry El Peix, fish sculpture located in front of the Port Olímpic, in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain 1992

The composed creations, unlike the holistic ones have many elements, some are mutually related, due to the purpose, proximity, similarity, counter balancing, scale, massing, etc. These constituents individually or in combinations evoke the past experiences. The past experiences are subjective and fluid. A composition remains a frame in a time slot of a happening.


14 VR offers a way out of the inhibitions for Surrealist Art Movement relativity-escher