Unryuan Kitamura Tatsuo

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.


1952    Born in Wajima, Ishikawa-ken, Japan
1981     Began study of traditional lacquer production and design
1985    Established Kitamura Studio
1986    Produced first Inro
1992    Inro purchased by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London
1994    Solo exhibition Paris, Solo exhibition Chicago
1995    Solo Exhibition Vienna
1996    Solo Exhibition Nomura Art Museum, Kyoto
2000   Solo exhibition Nomura Art Museum, Kyoto
2002   Solo exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London
2003    Aroma Lacquer Exhibition  Pola Annex  Ginza Japan
International Asian Art Fair, New York
International Art and Design Fair New York
2006   Established The Shikokenkyukai (SKK) NPO and elected Representative Director
Solo Exhibition, Art Gallery NSW, Sydney Australia Official Aus-Japan Year of
Exchange Event
Aroma  Hamilton Art Gallery International Lacquer Seminar and Demonstration
Official Aus-Japan Year of Exchange Event  Group Show Unryuan and SKK
Wajima Lacquer Museum, Wajima, Japan
“Japanese Lacquer” Foundation Anniversary Lecture National Art University of Peking
2007   Unryuan and Friends   Group show Time Gallery Ginza
Invited Lecturer, Ise Shrine Japan
2008   Art and Antiques Dubai
Itabeni  Lipstick Palettes  Beni Museum Isehan  Aoyama Tokyo Judge and Invited Exhibitor
2009    Tenshodo Ginza Tokyo  Mojiban Watch Face Competition and Exhibition
Invited Exhibitor  5 of 9 main prizes went to Kitamura Kobo including first prize
Joint project co-ordinator of team of young artists sponsored by Ishikawa Prefecture to revive traditional arts through study of Date Family incense game set
2011    Project Director‘ The Regeneration of Craft* Uwajima Date Incence Set Replication’   Exhibited Beni Museum Isehan  Aoyma Tokyo
Work acquired by National Gallery of Australia
Work acquired by AGNSW
100 Flowers Recent Asian Acquisitions AGNSW
‘Measuring the new time of Japanese beauty; Exhibition of lacquer watch faces’ Kanazawa Shii Reception Hall
2012    Art Crafting towards the future, 21st Century Museum of Art, Kanazawa Japan

Art Gallery of NSW Sydney Australia
HIH Princess, Takamado Japan
Hodgkinson Collection, Sydney, Australia
Ise Jingu  Imperial Shrine Collection Japan
21st Century Museum of Art, Kanazawa
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, USA
National Gallery of Victoria, Australia
National Gallery of Australia
Nomura Museum, Kyoto, Japan
Pauline Gandel Collection of  Japanese Lacquer, Melbourne, Australia
Peggy and Richard Danziger Collection, New York
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Numerous private collections in Japan, USA, UK, Europe and Australia

Unryuan Kitamura Tatsuo
Lesley Kehoe