photo: SAIKI Taku

Box, flowers and constellations design, hyomon

ArtistOBA Shogyo
Material/ TechniqueJapanese lacquer, wood, gold, etc.
Size/ DurationH13×W25×D15cm
Copyright Notice© OBA Masashi
Year of acquisition/ donation2001
DescriptionBorn in Kanazawa, Ishikawa, Japan in 1916. Died in Ishikawa in 2012.

Oba Shogyo studied the fundamentals of design at the Department of Design and Painting at Ishikawa Prefectural Industrial School, and after graduating continued studying under his father, OBA Soshu. Beginning in 1943 he served a two-year apprenticeship under MATSUDA Gonroku as a vocational trainee from Kanazawa. As well as acquiring a broad range of ‘maki-e’ techniques, he was also heavily influenced by Matsuda’s approach to lacquer art. Among the various maki-e techniques, Oba excels in particular in the technique known as ‘hyomon,’ which involves cutting designs out of sheets of gold or silver, affixing them to the surface of vessels, and polishing them after lacquer has been applied and allowed to harden. In 1982 Oba was designated a Holder of an Important Intangible Cultural Property (Living National Treasure) in maki-e.

The black surface of the lacquered box is decorated with constellations including the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia. Using the hyomon technique, each individual star is rendered in raised gold. Around each star, its luminance is depicted in mother-of-pearl or gold, with fine gold hyomon lines connecting the stars in each constellation. Perched on these lines are birds, also rendered in gold hyomon and seemingly suspended in a world of pitch-darkness. Although depicted tenderly in lines with varying thicknesses as if painted with a brush, the Japanese plum, tree peony, and other flowers also exhibit the boldness typical of hyomon. These tiny, refined flowers appear to flutter in the infinite, pitch-dark space. This work is one of the “Constellation” series produced between 1991 and 1995. Abstracted into simple patterns, the design is created with an inevitability arising from the marriage between it and the technique, which brings out the best in the materials, creating a dignified harmony with the shape of the vessel.