May 1, 2009

Jeon Sonsen-nim's Challenge with Watches

Title: Credor JURI Tenga (graceful)

INTERVIEW with Lacquer Artist Jeon Yongbok
(translated by flowerbossa)

When I was 30 years old, I was asked to repair a zen (a table for meals) with exquisite raden (mother- of- pearl inlay ) which had been used at Meguro Gajoen for 60 years.At the time, I was not interested in reparing things made in the past, but I decided to accept the request believing that it would be a good experience. That was my first encounter with Tokyo Meguro Gajoen.Six years later, I became responsible for a project which consisted of restoring and creating art works amounting to 5000 pieces, and in the 3 years that followed, I experienced various hardships in managing the 300 lacquer craftsman I had brought with me from Korea and the difficulties of living abroad. But as I was filled with a sense of duty to revivify the art works of the highest class left by our forerunners, I put in everything I had into this project.

Title: Credor NODE

The decorations on the elevators, works which were large as 23 m in height, walls which were totally covered with lacquer work etc ... everything at Gajoen were of unprecedented scale, and in order to finish it with perfection, I knew that it was necessary to have deep knowledge and understanding of the materials. Thus, I went through countless research and experiments on the traditional Japanese lacquer techniques and the qualities of lacquer.

Through these efforts, I realized that lacquer possessed mysterious qualities which are not yet generally known. I felt that new possibilities laid ahead in the expression with lacquer.

I took on the challenges of creating delicate musical instruments such as the piano, violin, and cello. Bringing out the qualities of lacquer, I was able to create a clear and beautiful sound. Not only were they beautiful on the outside, I think it was a worthwhile challenge to pursue the new possibilities of lacquer.

Title: Credor NODE

And now, coming out of my usual work of creating furniture and artworks for decorating walls, I have become interested in "watches" - something very close to us and capable of seeing at all times. I imagined the inexpressible beauty that will come out when art is added to something made with precision.Natural materials create various expressions according to light and angles. The splendor of a shell possesses movement. When the artwork resonates with the gear and hands, we should be able to feel a bigger sense of life. My new creative activity had begun.

Up to this present day, I have three things I am proud of in my life.

First, for completing the restoration and creation of the cultural assets of Meguro Gajoen (called the "hall of arts" of the early Showa era) by giving everything I had in terms of ideas and ability.

Secondly, 15 years from then, I revived the Iwayama Lacquer Art Museum as a museum serving as a base for the culture of lacquer.

And the third is for taking on the new challenge of creating watches.

In 2007, I made a visit to Baselworld and strongly felt that the product of this creative activity should not be an artwork merely based on my original views , rather I must aim for perfection as a watch. Being finally able to present this product after overcoming many obstacles, I must say this was a project I suffered from the most and at the same time found the most rewarding in all my life as an artist.

Japan is the "country of japan (lacquer)". It took in the art of lacquer from abroad, and has established it as a part its own culture. In a land with a harsh natural environment frequented by earthquakes, lacquer has been used as a kind of paint to preserve wooden architecture, and passed on steadily to the present. Here, you can most certainly find bountiful knowledge and work of the Japanese people.

Because I am an artist who deals with lacquer, a symbol of Japan, I have experienced much of its culture and acknowledge its greatness, but unfortunately few Japanese seem to understand his own culture in depth.

There is much in the culture of Japan that one can proudly present to the world. I hope the Japanese people would soon wake up to the wonders of the things close at hand, and feel proud of them. Perhaps it is time that the Japanese who have been in contact with western culture for a long time will revive its sense of nostalgia.

Tradition is something that preserves history, and at the same time, it must leave the present age itself. It is my desire to have the Japanese people know more about the culture of lacquer and treasure it. I hope my work will serve as a catalyst.

Expressing my respect to the Swiss people who contributed to the history of mechanical watches, I believe that this collaboration with lacquer with its 10,000 year old history has gained an opportunity to make a contribution. I would like to offer all of my experience and craftsmanship for this project.

Even in the world of a millimeter, if it is something that touches a soul, it is worth giving one's life to it.



gosijo said...

Dear Flowerbossa,

The more I read about lacquer art, the more I wish to visit Tokyo Meguro Gajoen.

This interview with Jeon Sonsen-nim on watches is fascinating because we get to learn about the great challenges he had to overcome and the rewarding feelings now. Also, I did not know that adding lacquer to musical instruments would impact on their sound and render it more beautiful, clearer.

Thank you for the translation!

Also, I saw your comment in bb's blog. (Sigh!) I too would like to see YJ in new work soon.

flowerbossa said...

Hello gosijo,

Yes, I wish you could join us at the lecture! It would be such a good opportunity to learn about sonsen-nim's achievements first hand. His daughter went to college in New Zealand, so I wouldn't be suprised if he spoke some English^^

Like you, I am really curious to know how lacquer changes the sound of instruments, especially of the piano. If I ever have the chance to visit the lacquer museum that will re-open in August, I hope to see them on exhibit.

It is Golden Week here in Japan, meaning we are on a long holiday. Most people will go back to work/school from the 7th.

Hope you are having a good weekend^^/


jaime said...

Dear flowerbossa,

Like gosijo, I am amazed by the artistry in these timepieces and musical instruments. Yes, I think too gosijo will enjoy Mr. Chun's lecture immensely. I can't wait to go to his museum in Iwate.
Thanks for this wonderful post.

love ... jaime

flowerbossa said...

Konnichiwa Jaime-san,

It's so good to know you are feeling better!

I'm glad you enjoyed this -
it reminded me of your own post on the beautiful watches you shared with us^^

I'm sure many BYJ family are looking forward to the reopening of the museum.