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Transforming the Broken to the Beautiful:The Art of Kintsugi

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

 

“The world breaks everyone, then some become strong at the broken places.”
- Ernest Hemingway

The famous American writer’s quote could very easily be seen as a metaphor for the age-old Japanese art of kintsugi, in which golden or other precious metallic joinery is used to repair and in the process, transform, broken pottery. The material used is essentially lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum, a method similar to the maki-e technique. 

 
Kintsugi is built around a deeply held philosophy; that all things are impermanent and that change and flux are part of the human condition. The art therefore reveres breakage and repair as part of the story of an object, rather than something to mask. Not surprisingly it is also closely linked to the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, which sees beauty in the flawed or imperfect, the Japanese feeling of mottainai or regret over waste or loss, as well as mushin, the acceptance of change. Kintsugi is also related to the Japanese philosophy of "no mind" which is based on the ideas of non-attachment, acceptance of mutability, and fate.

 



The history of Kintsugi

Like many Japanese traditions, while kintsugi’s origins also encompass China, Vietnam, and Korea, its application in Japan helped raise it to the level of true artistry.

It is thought to date back to the late 15th century, when, as legend has it, Japanese shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa sent a cracked chawan or tea bowl back to China to be mended. He was displeased to find the repaired bowl had been restored with ugly metal staples and spurred his craftsmen to find a more aesthetically pleasing method of repair. Kintsugi is still closely associated with ceramic vessels used for the Japanese tea ceremony although its application has also expanded to a wide variety of objects.

 

 

Step by step Kintsugi:

There are numerous kits and workshops available for anyone wishing to repair a loved object and give it new life through the gently restorative art of kintsugi. While the below steps are a simplified breakdown of the method, which requires painstaking cleaning, patient layering and mindful waiting (or drying time), they provide a useful starting point for understanding this time-honoured tradition.
  1. Break: Accept the impermanence of all things and gather the fragments of the broken object. Make the choice to give a new life to the object instead of discarding it.
  2. Assemble: Clean the fragments with a brush or cloth. Collect the necessary tools (spatula, palette, lacquer, brushes, gold powder, drying box, chopsticks, turpentine, sandpaper, silk cotton...). Carefully assess and assemble the puzzle of the broken object.
  3. Repair: Apply layers of lacquer with a very fine brush on all broken edges of the object and assemble them to make the object whole.
  4. Embellish: Apply gold powder with cotton or application tube onto the still sticky lacquer. Once the lacquer dries, use a soft cloth to remove excess gold powder and reveal the gold scars.
  5. Protect: Use a thin layer of protective lacquer to fix the gold. Let it dry for 24 hours. This last step is not always performed as it affects the colour of the gold.


In our western modern world, bound by consumerism, waste and attachment to unrealistic ideals of beauty, the concept of kintsugi has much to teach us. If you would like to know more about kintsugi at Kazari + Ziguzagu we would be more than happy to assist you. We also offer a kintsugi service to bring new life and a beautiful new layer of meaning to objects in need of repair and restoration.

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