Unryuan Kitamura Tatsuo (b. 1952)
“In considering Unryuan’s work, my tendency is to describe him as ‘Post-modern’, in the sense that post-modernism is about quotation from the past. In exploring and redefining historic lacquer techniques, he is not about imitation or fakery but is respecting what has gone before and re-expressing it in today’s terms, albeit with that reverential sense of the past that is such a rich characteristic of Japanese art. Unryuan’s work is subtle in this sense and without some appreciation of what has occurred in the history of Japanese lacquer it is hard to appreciate how important his achievements have been and continue to be.
The persistence of traditional forms in his work… gives the work validity within the lacquer tradition. Nonetheless the introduction of new forms… exemplifies a flexibility of mind that sees innovation as an important factor in enabling this medium to survive and have ongoing relevance to today’s world.“
Daniel McOwan Director Hamilton Art Gallery Aust-Japan Year of Exchange 2006
Unryuan’s works of lacquer art engage us immediately on the physical level. With no knowledge or understanding of the medium, they are immediately accessible as objects of great aesthetic and visual pleasure, surely one of the most important pre-requisites of ‘art’.
Their shapes may be exotic but their colours and their subject matter are catholic. This pleasure increases exponentially with initiation into material, technique and function and is accompanied by awe at the commitment, patience and dedication required to create them.
If our senses are stimulated, our curiosity piqued by the unusual shape, the anonymous function, the recognized yet not fully perceived subject matter, we are called on the journey, a journey made all the more exciting and fascinating by our induction into an exotic culture.
Unryuan seeks to be identified as part of the strong tradition of Japanese lacquer. He is passionate about the preservation of the soul, spirit and identity of the past, the uniqueness of traditional Japanese culture as expressed in the Edo period. He is passionate in his quest to ensure that age-old unique skills are not lost, passionate about his arguably obsolete objects being strictly utilitarian as they were originally. He re-interprets and re-creates objects from a somewhat decadent, self-indulgent past which have no part in a post-capitalist, Westernized modern Japan.
In this age of conformist globalization, the suited McDonald’s-eating ‘sarari-man’ (salary man) or the blonde-headed ‘be-denim-ed’ OL (office lady) of the Ginza, are likely to have more in common with sushi-eating Australians and Americans than with the consumers and patrons of Edo arts. Thus we ask, why is Unryuan creating these works and who is his audience?
The answers to these questions will be found in viewing and engaging with his objects. Unryuan uses lacquer as a medium for the expression of joy, for communication with the universal human spirit and an understanding of its infinite capacity. There is a simple, incomparable thrill in lifting the lid of one of his boxes and discovering the surprise inside.