Meeting with the world's master of lacquer

A strong link between France and Japan: Maitre Onishi Nagatoshi and Isabelle Emmerique

His exceptional visit to France aroused a lot of emotions among craftsmen and lacquerers. The exceptional work of the master Onishi Nagatoshi, his exhibition at the Mizen Fine Art International gallery, his conference at the Boule school demonstrate once again the close link between art and craft. The undisputed master of the genre goes even further. He links nature to the art of lacquer, according to the ancestral Japanese technique.

Urushi perfectly sums up the theme of the exhibition and the lecture given by the master lacquerer. Urushi refers to both the tree from which the sap is extracted to obtain the lacquer and the lacquer itself. The uncompromising and complex art of lacquerware has long been unknown in the West. Dating back to the Neolithic period and born in Asia, it is still very present in several countries of this continent such as Japan, Vietnam and China. Lacquer was originally a craft technique designed to improve the daily life of Asian populations. It was used to glue objects and form a protective film for them. Lacquer is traditionally applied to wood or bamboo. It has to dry slowly on the material. This complex lacquering technique is also a "school of patience", as the drying time is necessarily long. It must be done in a dust-free place. The natural colour of lacquer is a deep brown, but it can be modified by adding coloured pigments. It can therefore be decorated once it has dried.

The specificity of the Professor emeritus and world master of lacquer is the total fusion of the raw material with the master. He explained to us that he chews the leaves of the tree, a secret of longevity that makes him look like a fifty-year-old at the top of his 83 years. Nagatoshi Onishi's work is precise, nourished by an infinite patience associated with a very advanced search for perfection. His objects are first created using a particular technique. He immerses the pieces of material that will make up the object in a bath of lacquer. This technique allows Nagatoshi Onishi to give free rein to his imagination, it guarantees the extreme flexibility of the materials used and gives infinite new forms. Onishi's lacquer objects are not decorated. They appear as pure monochrome profiles, black, red or gold, freely inspired by natural organic forms.

He passed on his knowledge to a few initiates. One of his former students, now a "master" in her own right, is currently a teacher at the Olivier de Serres workshop. This master traveller has created a magnificent cultural bridge between Japan and France. Isabelle Emmerique trains students in different lacquer techniques. She is a magnificent example of the practice of this art in France. She also combines other techniques such as the application of gold leaf or glass inlays. The trans-generational link between Onishi Nagatoshi and Isabelle Emmerique is a cultural transmission of the art towards the different craft techniques.