Lovers of the Japanese aesthetic should head to the Dutko Gallery in Mayfair this week to enjoy an outstanding exhibition, Encounters (from Thursday June 23 to Friday August 5), which brings together a scholarly selection of Japanese artistry and craftsmanship. Jean-Jacques Dutko has long championed the art-deco movement and is credited with resurrecting important names such as Eugène Printz, so it is perhaps not surprising to find the centrepiece of the show to be the superb art-deco lacquerwork of Katsu Hamanaka, a pupil of the legendary master lacquerer Seizo Sugawara. (Other disciples of Sugawara have included Eileen Gray and Jean Dunand.) Hamanaka emigrated to Paris from Japan in 1924, where he created some of the most spectacular masterpieces of the period. Encounters includes a 1935 decadent sharkskin sofa by Hamanaka, with black lacquered sides (price on request, second picture) and a heart-jolting black lacquered and gold-leaf screen, c1928 (price on request, first picture).
Dutko chose the title Encounters because he also wanted to show the cross-fertilisation between Japan and the West over the past 90 years. Take, for example, the furniture of George Nakashima, one of the revered fathers of the American Craft Movement and a recognised innovator of 20th-century design, whose 1978 walnut R bench (£25,000, third picture) is another star of the show. Dutko has also chosen to exhibit contemporary works alongside these rare pieces, such as Masayoshi Nakajo’s Walking Cat side table (2015, £5,000), which features traditional Kawatsura lacquerwork; Hitomi Uchikura’s sculptural 2016 Lumière panels (example in fourth picture, price on request), which explore light through concave and convex embossed paper; and expressive abstract paintings by Takesada Matsutani (price on request) – prices for artworks go up to £70,000.
No Japanese-themed show could ignore the importance of ceramics, and Dutko does not disappoint, juxtaposing the 2016 white sandstone flowers of renowned ceramicist Shoko Koike (from £6,000) with the 2016 pumpkin-like Akoda (fifth picture, price on request) by Chieko Katsumata. One of the most mesmerising pieces is the 2015 elaborate sea-inspired bowlLes Fees de l’Ocean (£4,000) by master ceramicist Haruhiko Kaneko, who uses the ancient Uteki Tenmoko “drop-of-oil” technique to create a rich and rare lustre.
Europe’s enduring fascination with Japanese art, craft and design often emanated from the country’s fluidity between those three labels. Function alone is not enough – the decorative appeal of an object is regarded as a function. Poetry, philosophy and aesthetics are woven into every object of merit. As Dutko says, “Japanese culture has influenced the West since the 17th century, reaching a peak in the 1930s. The arrival in France of a few major Japanese artists during that time had a considerable impact on the work of great Western artists, while the use of certain materials such as lacquer or shagreen gave French artists a brand-new ground for exploration. My own encounter with the work of Kichizo Inagaki, Katsu Hamanaka and, more recently, George Nakashima prompted me to discover and explore this incredible universe, filled with poetic philosophy. I was also encouraged to open up to today’s generation of Japanese artists, who pursue with so much knowledge and craftsmanship the legacy of their forefathers.”