TAI Modern, the leading US gallery specializing in contemporary bamboo art from Japan, brings a select group of works by Japan’s most esteemed bamboo artists to Asia Week New York’s Autumn exhibition. It can take months for these artists to produce a single basket or sculpture and years to create a body of work that sets them apart from their peers. The artists included in this presentation generally belong to one of Japan’s major arts organizations. Each artist creates masterful works for their organizations’ annual exhibitions.
Hobi Bamboo Tray-style Flower Basket, 1940
madake & hobichiku bamboo, rattan
7 x 17.5 x 17.5 in
Ueda Shounsai (1897-1990) was an important student of Tanabe Chikuunsai I (1877-1937). As a student, Ueda absorbed Osaka’s literati-influenced aesthetic and style of basket art. Ueda became independent around 1918 and started to create his own pieces. Shortly thereafter, he was asked to exhibit his works in the inaugural show organized by the major Osaka Bamboo Artists’ Association, founded in 1920. Ueda participated in many public exhibitions during the first half of the Showa era (1926-1989), and one of his flower baskets won a medal in the Osaka Industrial Arts Exhibition in 1938.
Ueda’s powerful Hobi Bamboo Tray-style Flower Basket from 1940 is a major piece. It is not only an excellent example of this artist’s work, but is also a representative work of the time. It is constructed from hobichiku (phoenix tail bamboo), centuries-old smoked dwarf bamboo taken from the ceilings of traditional farmhouses. Ueda split these precious bamboo culms vertically into quarters, plaited them randomly, and then bent them in a round shape to accentuate the beauty of the material. Ueda carefully dyed a section of whole madake (timber) bamboo with prominent nodes to create an imposing handle. Ueda’s fine rattan work connecting the handle is a nice counterbalance to the scale and relaxed informal plaiting of the tray.
madake bamboo, rattan
7.5 x 19.75 x 7 in
For 40 years, Hisatomi Muan made his living creating commissions of karamono-style tea ceremony baskets. His intricate works, showcased in shops and galleries throughout Japan, sold well, enabling him to provide a comfortable living for his family. Though technically masterful, the commissioned baskets were typically based on historic or established styles that followed the strict protocols of each tea ceremony school. Hisatomi began to feel constrained and yearned to express his ideals and creativity in his work.
Even though he was unfamiliar with the art world, he began submitting his bamboo creations several years ago to some of the most prestigious art competitions in Japan, including the Japan Traditional Craft Arts Exhibitions and the National Wood and Bamboo Exhibitions. In 2017, he was awarded the Tokyo Metropolitan Education Committee Prize. He also took home the New Artists Prize at the 65th Japan Traditional Craft Arts Exhibition and was honored to have the piece purchased by the Imperial Household Agency.
Hisatomi’s unique work beautifully fuses contemporary design, technical brilliance and innovation, and historic artistic references. The years he spent mastering his craft are now being used to create superb award-winning pieces.
Spring Dawn, 1995
madake bamboo, rattan
10 x 14.25 x 14.25 in
Out of all his peers, Abe Motoshi is probably the most dedicated to experimenting and expanding his weaving skills. Human beings have been making baskets for thousands of years; one might imagine that all possible plaiting patterns have been tested and refined over time. However, in his long and successful career, Abe has demonstrated repeatedly that new techniques and patterns can still be invented. This basket features the artist’s original variation of a yoroi-gumi or armor plaiting technique. Abe often says, "one can never master everything about the art of bamboo."
Spring Sunlight, 2020
madake bamboo, rattan
17.75 x 14 x 14 in
“To me, the essence of craft art is to show and make the best out of the material. The beauty of the material itself is a very important aspect of my work. In order to express this beauty, I process bamboo entirely by myself so that I have greater control over what I am working with. I use the bamboo that grows on my mountain and process it traditionally. I cut my own bamboo during the cold of winter, usually in January or February. After harvesting, the first step is to stand the lengths of bamboo up in a well-ventilated place for 100 or so days to dry them naturally. Then, I leach out the oil and sugar from the bamboo by heating it. After that, I dry them further in my special hot chamber for 20 days. At this point, the bamboo has become a clean ivory color and has increased in luster. This is the color I like to achieve, and it decreases the chance of mildew or nesting insects. It is a painstaking process of work, but I like to show the true beauty of undyed bamboo. You can also boil bamboo in an alkaline solution to achieve a somewhat similar result, but it is not quite the same. I use the beauty of bamboo’s own natural color and compose my work in a way to make the best out of its resilient nature. In my mind, I have this ideal of a transparency in my bamboo work, like a work of glass. That pureness is what I always look for. Unlike other materials in craft arts, you can express the beauty of empty space in bamboo.”