Kiso Artech is an artisan workshop with showrooms in Tokyo, Kyoto and Narai.
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Kiso Artech is an artisan workshop with showrooms in Tokyo, Kyoto and Narai. It was established in 1990 in Narai, a small historic town
set in the midst of the beautiful Kiso Valley, where 300 year old trees have long been the source of the special art of urushi (lacquer work). Kiso Artech’s owner and chief designer Tomochika Saito spoke to us about how he draws on the traditions he learnt from his father, a national living treasure, while meeting the needs of contemporary architectural, product and interior designs.
Saito is an advocate and skilled practitioner of the ancient techniques of urushi and chinkin (gold-inlaid lacquer art). He works with only five other craftsmen to create his painstaking designs. In recent times, Saito has adapted the urushi to wallpapers, furniture and other architectural applications.
With the nearby forests abundant with hinoki cypress, asunaro, cedar, magnolia, katsura, chestnut, zelkova, and Japanese horse chestnut, Saito san is a happy man.
I was born here. The village is surrounded by mountains with 300 year old trees. It is one of major production areas for lacquering.
My father worked on lacquer art specialising in chinkin. I grew up seeing his work and naturally started the same job. Since the Japanese lifestyle became more westernised, there was a reduction in demand for lacquerware. So I started producing furniture and architectural materials using lacquer and wood.
Our ancestors used natural materials such as lacquer and wood in their own backyard. They developed techniques and strategies for designing and producing. I respect such ancient knowledge. I would like to create warm and comfortable spaces that are harmonious with nature and produce new designs.
Japanese paper, washi, is made from the fibre of the mulberry tree, and is an important material for the process of lacquering. Washi is wrapped around the corners and edges of lacquerware to increase its strength. It is also used as a filter to strain dust from the liquid. This inspired me to create lacquered wallpaper. The first step is to paint kakishibu over the washi as a primer. Kakishibu is a traditional natural paint in Japan, made from persimmon juice. You then coat it with colored lacquer, which creates a unique texture. This wallpaper is highly water-resistant and has an approved fire-resistant rating in Japan.
Yes, they are popular, and are purchased by people who build or renovate houses, shops and restaurants. Architects and designers use them in airport lounges, hotels, and public buildings. Our Kyoto showroom has lots of visitors from overseas. Some of them buy this wallpaper as artwork.
You feel more comfortable in cotton rather than polyester. The same is true of houses. You can relax surrounded by natural materials rather than industrial products. I use timbers with knots and cracks. You may think such timbers are not good materials, but I see beauty in them and wish to use them exclusively.
Kanshitsu sculpture. Kanshitsu is a kind of lacquering technique. The base and linen are hardened with lacquer until it has a firm texture which is not affected by the environment. You can model it into any shape you want.
Conifers: hinoki cypress, asunaro, cedar. Hardwoods: magnolia, katsura, chestnut, zelkova, Japanese horse chestnut.