Some of the most interesting urushi artists are those who are quite radical. Kurimoto Natsuki is an excellent example. He graduated from the Kyoto University of Fine Arts in 1985 and finished a master’s program at the same school two years later. A solo exhibition of his urushi lacquer work was shown off at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music in 1985, but even a year before he graduated he was honored at the Suzuki Gallery in Kyoto.

While the academic honors are surely impressive, they do not tell a complete story about this very unique artist. His work is certainly something very different than what most people in the field are used to. Having completed a study trip to Europe and even gone on exhibition in the United States, Kurimoto-sensei is an international phenomenon in his own right.

Urushi art helmet piece Kurimoto

The urushi piece Spirit of Darkness II is currently in storage at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It was a gift of the artist in 1993.

His works might be called unusual. For instance, Spirit of Darkness II is a piece that certainly looks quite abstract. Nevertheless, he still pulls themes from classical Japanese history. The piece is one of several that represent medieval Japanese military helmets called kaburimono. The piece was polished to a particular sheen that is really unmistakable.

In this manner, Kurimoto-sensei is very much like Naoki Maeda. When looking at a piece of radical urushi, it’s important to view the underlining themes that still keep it grounded. Some of Naoki Maeda’s still draw from very traditional yakimono techniques, which are then married to equally traditional urushi techniques. One might use this as a sort of philosophical allegory.

Ceramic vase with lacquer coating

Naoki Maeda’s vases combine aspects of yakimono ceramics with the intense lacquering techniques previously reserved for wooden objects.

Postmodernist art is certainly quite visually striking, but it is grounded in the past. People who have strong traditions and values both in life and art will be able to hang onto them no matter what sort of trials they have to go through.

They will remain upright in the stormy seas of life. These kinds of themes can certainly be taken away from both Kurimoto Natsuki’s kaburimono urushi pieces as well as the ceramic and lacquer combination pieces made by Naoki Maeda.

The other similarity surely has to be in the amount of time it takes to produce such art. Finishing off a lacquer piece is in no way an easy task. This might explain why both artists have a background in both practical applications and more formal education. Artists need both in order to be able to create such stunning pieces.