‘Old Well (Furuido)’, 2021
THIS SPECTACULAR WOVEN basket is currently on view at Eskenazi in London, as part of the exhibition ‘Contemporary Bamboo: Masters from Japan’. Made from bamboo, rattan and vine – and given drama and mystery by black and red lacquer – it is more a vast sculptural nest than a basket. The ‘well’ of the piece, its dark heart, the presumptive idea behind the composition, is a modest cyclinder. But, surrounding this, has grown a beautifully orchestrated chaos: layer upon layer of criss-crossed plant fibre organically building ever outwards, ebulliently weaving to create a spinning planet. All this energy is then held in check by the wriggling vine that forms a frame and handle; domesticating this wild growth, this nest of vipers.
Yonezawa Jirō is one of a handful of contemporary masters of bamboo in Japan. This art dates back to the twelfth century AD, when Japan began to import Chinese baskets for Buddhist ritual and the tea ceremony. It became an important field for master craftsmen in the late seventeenth century, as the practice of the sencha tea ceremony became more popular. It was at the end of the nineteenth and into the early twentieth century, however, that Japanese bamboo artisans began to push the boundaries of their craft, using this abundant, natural material for artistic self-expression.
Yonezawa Jirō, born on the island of Kyūshū, Ōita Prefecture, in 1956, trained at the Beppu Vocational Arts Training Center, before spending a year as an apprentice to the artist Masakazu Ono. He then continued his training at the Ōita Prefectural Beppu Industrial Arts Research Institute. But, beyond this, Yonezawa Jirō is unusual in having been influenced by the fibre art movement in America, where he lived and worked for eighteen years, and which inspired larger scale, bolder and more sculptural works.
Yonezawa Jirō has commented about his practice “Bamboo basketry for me is an expression of detailed precision. In each basket there is the contrast of disciplined formality in technique and natural freedom in form. There is an element of intrigue and an element of complexity for what lies beyond form. These baskets represent a search for the beauty and precision in nature and a way to balance the chaos evident in these times.” He has described the act of weaving itself as meditative, saying “The cacophony of life dissipates; the sculpture emerges vigorous and vibrant.” This is undoubtedly the case here.
‘Contemporary Bamboo: Masters from Japan’ at Eskenazi Ltd. runs until 8th July 2022.