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© SASAI Fumie


2009 "In the flower garden" catalogue

(1) Her upbringing-and then Kyoto City University of Arts
SASAI Fumie wos born in Yao City, Osaka in 1973. Like TASHIMA, she is on artist with no connections to the production centers. It is said that in her very young days, she often played ot cutting things out with scissors. In the arts club of her high school, she mode oil paintings, but she is the type who connot easily be confined to the lot surface of a painting and is forced outside it . She is psychologically suited to making three-dimensional forms, an artist who connot be put into a frame, one who goes outside it.

In 1992 SASAI entered the Department of Crafts,Faculty of Fine Arts, at Kyoto City University of Arts (hereafter referred to as KCUA). As a first-year student there, she had to decide on her major ofter having some experience of all the materials used in craft work. It botered her that a ceramic piece "become thinner" every time it underwent the process of drying and firing. The opposite of ceramics, the piece grows thicker, if only by a tiny amount. (Note 13 From interviews with the artist February 7 and June 1, 2009)

At KCUA, urushi lacquering is divided into four courses of study. They were, at the time, dry lacquer, taught by SHINKAI Gyokuho, Iacquer coating,tought by MOCHIZUKI Shigenobu, ornamentotion techniques, tought by FUYUKI Isao (KURIMOTO Notsuki for the second-year and above), and woodworking, taught by FUJISAKI Makoto. Secondyear students studied the various techniques of lacquer working; third-year students spent several months producing a single work. The dry lacquer technique studied by SASAI used styrofoam as a care and was no longer a novelty.

It was in the late 1940s that non-functional ceramics, so-called objets d'art (unfunctional ceramic objects), made their appearance in Japan. In the world of lacquer, in the 1960s, one of SASAI's instructors, SHINKAI Gyokuho (formerly SHINKAI Osamu 1939-), and others, were already making dry lacquer objets on a styrofoam core.

The modern period of lacquer arts dates back to the Meiji Period, and in recent times, it has been based on developments centering around traditional makie. It began with surface ornamentotion, studies being made of design reform and colored lacquers. In the Taisho Period and later, thanks to the rediscovery and reossessment of dry lacquer technology, there was on unfolding of expression that was aware of the possibilities of "painting" urush itself,in lacquer arts and the relotionship between "painting" and form. (Note 14 Cf. TODATE Kazuko,"The debut and meaning of styrofoam -care dry lacquer objects in lacquer art history")

SHINKAI Gyokuno, who taught dry lacquer at KCUA from 1963 to 2004, was one of the earliest artists to create objects of dry lacquer on a styrofoam core. He held a personal exhibition ot the Gallery Beni in Kyoto, showing objets d'art that were abstract in foam (Cf. Figure 8, TODATE Kozuko, "The debut and meaning of styrofoam core dry lacquer objects in lacquer art history"). Besides their being far more light and easy to handle than clay or wooden cares, styrofoam cores eliminate the fear of breakage and make it easy to create volume and curved surfaces. styrofoam greatIy expanded the scope of expression in dry lacquering, but on the other hand, SHINKAI says that there was harsh criticism for bringing together natural lacquer and the artificial product styrofoam (not in the case of hollow dry lacquer, but for lacquer pieces with the core still in them). However, lacquer is a material that blends in with many types of cores besides wood and metal, so in spite of the criticism, we could say it was quite a natural development for someone to get the idea of using lacquer with the modern industrial material styrofoam. Back in 1969, there were some disputes at universities, and subsequently, under a "reform draft policy",the lacquer art curriculum at KCUA adopted the aforementioned "four-man system". KCUA became the only university of the arts in Japan that took up the classroom use of styrofoam for the cores in dry lacquer objets d'art. (Note 15 Cf.the above reference)

While SASAI was at the university, the students around her had already taken up making dry lacquer on a styrofoam core; and in SASAl's second year there, when KURIMOTO Natsuki(1961-), then a rising young artist in the world of lacquer, assumed the post of instructor in charge of ornamentation techniques, she was greatly stimulated and began making forms using styrofoam without any inhibitions.

To create her works, she takes a block of styrofoam that is a bit harder than the ordinary kind used as insulation material and after making rough sketches and roughing the shape out with nichrome wire, she uses a wire brush and sandpaper and approaches an accurate form by stages. Next, after adjusting the base by sequentially pasting on hemp cloth or thin washi (in recent years, so paper from Chiang Mai), using sabi paste or noriurushi (a mixture of urushi and rice powder), she gets down to the real work, which roughly involves the steps of preparing undercoats with jinoko and tonoko (powdered burnt Clay), hen finishing the piece with repeated coats of urusih. This coat ing involves the careful application of a coat of black lacquer, followed by two or three finishing coats of red lacquer. Although nuritate coating, SASAI's main method of finishing a piece, allows her to skip the step of giving the piece a final togi (burnishing) such as is found in roiroshiage, itis work that demands a delicate touch to avoid leaving dust or brush marks. The sense of soft, light volume, which is only attainable using a styrofoam core, and the slight warmth of the lacquer finish go together exceptionally well.

In addition to dry lacquer on a styrofoam core, SASAI also studied more orthodox dry lacquer techniques, from using clay and gypsum forms to dry lacquer and also mastered the traditional way of layering lacquer on a wooden core.

(2) Developing a style
SASAI's creative history extends over the approximately 15years since the mid-1990s. Her works exhibit a consistent continuity, but if I were forced to divide her career into periods, it would be possible to list the following four, based on such criteria as surface finishing and cores.

She moves from rounded forms to sprouting ones, from roiroshiage to coating finishes, approximately 1994 to 1998. Ⅱ. The creature images come to have "movement," and she shifts from dry lacquer to try hollow dry lacquer,approximately 1998 to 2002. Ⅲ. Production in Thailand, 2003 to 2005. In period IV, after moving back to Japan, she continues to develop new images.

Ⅰ. Images of growth, from rounded forms to sprouting ones, from roiroshioge to coating finishes, 1994-1998
As described above, SASAI's basic method is to use the dry lacquer technique on a styrofoam core. This is not just any styrofoam; she choses a kind with relatively hard particles and makes rough drawings of the form with a black marker pen. She says that, rather than draw on paper, she works directly on the core. She pastes layers of hemp cloth using noriurushi and builds up the lacquer while mixing in jinoko powder, etc., for the corners and I edges. The lacqueris at once an adhesive and am olding material. She keeps applying black lacquer until the shape has been built up, and then finishes it with two or three surface coats of colored lacquer.

There are early indications of SASAI's present tendencies in the first free-form pieces, which she made in her thirdyear,including Mebae 1, and Mebae 2. The differences lie in the seductive gleam produced by roiroshioge (a technique involving repeated polishing and finishing layers of raw lacquer) and the addition of ornamentation using gold and silver powders and dry lacquer powder. Her 1995 works were of dry lacquer with the internal styrofoam removed and she also had "large works" in mind and tried her hand at panels such as Hitori.

After that starting around 1996, she intensified the images of growth, combining styrofoam, wood and other materials to create Germinotion, New shoots, and Grow. In their strong contrasts, with "roundness and protrusions," tthe forms transcend distinction between plans and animals and symbolize "growing things." The nuritate technique (coating without polishing), which produces the slick feeling of smooth lacquer, unlike the luster produced by burnishing the surface, reminds us of the flesh and blood that are the foundations of life.

Ⅱ. From "living creatures" to "movement"-dry lacquer and hollow dry lacquer techniques: 1998-2002
These "images of living creatures" develop into works for hanging on walls with an organic roundness. Immemorial and become even more stimulating to the viewer. The lightness of lacquer allows for it to be moved around freely-from the floor, to a base, to a wall. Somerimes she takes a work that was made to be put on a pedestal and hangs it on a wall for exhibition, so as to bring out the lightness and form of the lacquer.

The great success of her leanings toward biomorphic forms that stimulate the imagination can seen in Acceptable and in her largest work, Primordial,1999.  According to the artist, these works bear images of both women and men. The cute and also humorous shapes show the joy and robustness of life, and a cheerful, pleasant, and healthy eros, aptly representing SASAI's creative ethic.

These figures, which demonst rate a self-sustained feeling of existence that belies their cuteness, also have a connection with the tendency toward neoteny in art since the 1990s, which is often commented on nowadays. (Note 16 TODATE Kazuko,"A Commentary on New Arts: The True Identity of Neoteny, "Shin bijutsu Shinbun, September 1, 2009) In spite of their cute first impression and the feeling of kinship that they evoke, they are expressions that also contain venom) and make assertions. In SASAI's Period IV and later, these qualities eventually find striking expression in works with an infant motif: Beloved, 2007, Kajitsu, 2009. Hana 5, 2009, and others. However, SASAl's forms seem to have had the genes of horizontal development, rather than a vertical growth program, built into them from the start. Just as an amoeba freely changes its shape, her forms continue to develop in a "metamorphosis of unknown age," along with the progress of production. That is to say, SASAI 's "infant shapes," rather than being "young shapes," are primordial figures, and "maturity" is notlimited to just sexual maturity but rather it is laden with a tendency toward the asexual or neuter gender and transcends gender differences.

Her shapes, which exude the feeling of a formless organic qualityand wriggling motion, develop further in Ascending, Secret Promenade, A Pouse, Float Across, Refrain, and Increasíng. AII of them exhibit a primordial form of life that could even be termed biomorphism and stirs the imagination.

As it happens, manyof the works SASAI created in this period from 1999 to around 2002 were of dry lacquer. According to the artist, she felt very uncomfortable about leaving styrofoam inside her works. Even though, for the sake of strength, it was advisable to leave the styrofoam, she felt a compulsion to remove it, so she scratched it out of almost all of the pieces.

|t appears that for the maker of a piece, its insides are a weighty concern, although third parties are oblivious to them. Japanese craft artists and lacquer artists, armed with a "tactile vision," are aware of differences of even 1mm when they are creating forms, and they view works with senses that are more keen than normal eyesight and above reason.

Ⅲ. Creating in Thailand: 2003-2005
From 2003 to 2004, SASAI journeyed to Thailand, which has its own history of urushi culture, and created works using local materials. The forms she made using hand-made wash in place of hemp cloth and thitsi (Myanmar lacquer) in the thayoe method, were shaped like flower petals and ent itled Rak. She says she was much struck by the fact that in Thai, the words for love and lacquer are the same. She had already in 2002, created works such as Lemon by drying fruits and using them as a core. In Thailand. she sought out such materials as coconuts, tamarind, and modama beans, later making use of the shapes of their outer portions to make lacquer vessels The shapes of round tree nuts and fruits are truly "fascinating forms" fillled with potential for the growth of abundant life. The experience of making "vessels out of natural materials" seems to have set her free from her preoccupation with hollow dry lacquer.

Ⅳ. The linking chain of images-linking chain of fragrant images: from 2006 on
In 2007, as if brought on by the source of the life in the fruits and tree nuts, the Beloved series was born, and it went on to develop, overlapping images, with a "real baby-sized" fruit, Mangosteen, in 2008, a flower, Hana, and in 2009, a flower-like infant, Beloved. The viewers will be unconsciously drawn in by their forms, which almost seem to exude fragrance, all of which exuberantly praise the joy of living, and by their moist luster.

The form-creating world of her new works, Kajitsu and Sakanais truly in the process of expanding. She had the xperience of tapping a tree that is the source of Daigo lacquer, whose smooth coating and beautiful coloring give a lively movement to her new works. Sakana is onstructed of hollow lacquer, but it goes without saying that it was not hollowed out for use as a vessel, but was made this way so it could swim around freely on a wall.

In her article, "Cute Forms = Craft Art," the artist wrote, create forms derived from the seeds of plants and from animals and children, and do so on the basis of the sense of "cuteness" that humans always possess. (Note 17 SASAI Fumie (Artist's file), February 2008 edition). The various "cute" forms that have been created by this artist are at the same time forms containing a message full of love lying that she wishes to share the abundance found in thee forms.

Nevertheless, in spite of the feeling of kinship they inspire and the cuteness that gives a viewer the urge to pick SASAI's work"s upand pet them, these are forms that so possess an uncertainty of unknown origin and make pnetrating assertions. SASAI's primodial forms continue develop with an outward vector, using as a weapon the clear strength that lacquer possesses as a material and a sure technique.

4.Conclusion-Creation with a fertile outward vector
Biomorphism has been one important emphasis in the modeling arts since the 20th century and TASHIMA and SASAI,each on her own level, is a main force in that field. TASHIMA has focused more on the concrete structural oder of plants, while SASAI began with the organic nature of round primodial forms,but each of the artists has turned these into life force and vitality. They assume at the vitality and energy dwelling in and emanating form their works will meet with a positive reception from the viewers. TASHIMA belongs to a generation that was rutinized and "tested," while the slightly younger SASAI differs from her in that she is of a generation that tolerates a natural way of life. However, quite apart from individual differences and their generat ions, the forms they create possess ac ommon delicate and positiive quality. They are indeed modern female artists.

This outward vector is also an element common to the "kansai group" to which TASHIMA and SASAI belong. KURIMOTO Natsuki, SASAI's teacher and a Kansai urushi artist who has been a leader in the world of urushi creative art since the 1980s, once compared Tokyo and Kyoto as follows: "It seems to met hat Tokyo artists work with an eye to what they have within themselves when creating something;t hose in Kyoto start with a motif as a base and develop their works as they turn their own worlds toward the outside; they are seeking expansiveness." (Note 18 "Kyoto and Tokyo Inspecting the Present State of Urushi Creative Work," GLASS AND ART, No. 76 (IV, 4), 1997 winter edition;" The Modernity of Urushi: The Opening Symposium of the Kyoto 96 Exhibition," August 23 and September 7, 1996, NIKI Gallery Satsu) If we substitute Kanto for Tokyo and Kansai for Kyoto, it is quite evident that TASHIMA and SASAI qualify as belonging to the "Kansai group."

The two women artists TASHIMA and SASAI have in common the fact that in their creative style, they attempt to communicate something to the viewer. Neither falling into nihilism nor setting for a reticert stoicism,TASHIMA and SASAI' s works are intently outwardly focused. However, the outward vector of these two is not a matter of one-sided self-assertion or smugness; rather it, means that within their forms there is the will to influence other people. To putit another way the shapes evoke an interactive sentiment that belongs to another dimension that is worlds away from the idea of pandering to the public.

At one time, the "modern period" had built up the theory of individuality as the main agent of creativity. In partiicular,artists who dealt with the materials of craft work were required to be even more resolute in accepting "modernity" than those in other genres. However, the "modern period" is gradually demonstrating that works based on the "self" actually cannot succeed without recognizing others.

This being the situation today, TASHIMA's and SASAI's works share an abundance, invite the viewer to feelan affinity with them, and suggest "community and fellow feeling." The catch phrase of this exhibition, "Welcome to our paradise," is imbued with the artists' desire to put the viewers on an equal footing with them. This is a craft art world that is oriented toward energy-communication, neither compromising nor patronizing. Does their working attitude,the absence of hierarchy and their emphasis on horizontal connections and relationships, not offer us a 21st century new world view and hope for the future?
(TODATE Kazuko, Chief Curator, Tsukuba Museum of Art, Ibaraki )