Gen Saratani: TAMA

November 11, 2021 - January 14, 2022

Yoshii Gallery is pleased to present the exhibition, TAMA, featuring new artwork by Gen Saratani.  The show features nine urushi (Japanese lacquer) spheres of varying colors and sizes.  This will be the artist’s second show at Yoshii Gallery.

In this new body of work, Saratani creates luminous urushi spheres that push the boundaries of his chosen medium.  He starts by applying hemp cloth over a rounded structure to form the basis of his artwork.  On top of this hemp cloth, he applies an urushi glue that absorbs into the cloth and hardens it as it dries.  Next, the artist applies a few layers of urushi putty to add thickness to the surface of the artwork.  As Saratani adds the urushi, he continually smooths it and sands it to create the spherical shape.  Saratani does not use any molds or machinery to achieve the shape, but instead relies on his instincts and the feel of the object in his hands.  Lastly, Saratani applies layers of urushi paint to the spheres.  He applies about 5 or 6 layers, waiting for each layer to dry and harden before applying the next.   Each layer must harden for at least a couple days before the next can be applied, and it takes around 6 months for the sphere to be completed.

Urushi is the sap drawn from the urushi tree, which is native to Japan, China, and Southeast Asia.  This medium has been used for thousands of years to create objects that are both beautiful and resilient.  Urushi is not cured through a drying process, but requires exposure to specific temperatures and humidities.  Under the correct conditions, the sap undergoes a transformation that produces a hard sheath of lacquer.  Once the urushi is hardened, its incredible strength can withstand a wide range of chemicals and temperatures.

Saratani pushes the boundaries of this medium to create a body of work at a scale that has never been achieved before in the 9,000 year history of urushi.  Saratani places himself in the context of this ancient practice, but updates his process to create objects that have never been made before.  Saratani’s mastery of his material allows him to push the boundaries of his medium by creating artworks of extreme difficulty.  Guided by his hands and his instincts, he creates powerful yet delicate objects that appear almost otherworldly.

The circular shapes of the artworks draw on the Zen concept of ensō, a circle used to symbolize enlightenment and strength.  The form symbolizes a moment of clarity when the mind is free to create.  Drawing ensō is a spiritual practice that can be performed everyday, as a ritual and a moment of self-reflection and spirituality.  Saratani’s practice of creating his urushi spheres mimics this idea, modernizing the practice and bringing it into three dimensions.  His spherical forms take the concept even further, recalling the shape of Earth and the planets in our solar system.

Urushi has been a consistent passion of Saratani’s throughout his life.  Born in 1980 to a family of urushi artists, Saratani first began studying the process under his father Tomizo.  After graduating from Tokai University, where he studied art and design, Saratani pursued a mentorship under the urushi master Akira Takeda in Kyoto from 2008 – 2010.  Since settling in New York in 2012, Saratani has carved out his own space in the practice of maki-e, taking the craft in an entirely new direction by applying it to modern, large-scale, three-dimensional artworks.