Art in the Japanese Tradition of Kintsugi

Pottery and interior design pieces are inspired by a belief in the beauty of the broken.
29 August, 2017
In the 15th century, according to legend, a Japanese shogun named Ashikaga Yoshimasa broke a favorite chawan – a traditional tea bowl – and sent it back to China for repairs.
He wasn't at all happy with the results achieved with ugly metal staples and his craftsmen were tasked with finding a way to make better repairs. They fixed the pottery by artfully mending the seams in gold, making it as attractive if not more so than it was before it was shattered. They also invented the Japanese art of Kintsugi, also called Kintsukuroi, which translates as golden joinery or repair and became a beautiful tradition of its own.

The modern iterations of the craft still rely on gold, silver, platinum and other materials – including aluminium – to create the Kintsugi effect. Sometimes the practice is used to repair dishes or other items in the traditional sense, but just as often the effect is intentionally replicated in home furnishings, interior design and even clothing. The design team of Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren brought the feel of Kintsugi to high couture this year with a pricey ball gown they say benefits from the poetic romance.
They also noted it's because Kintsugi honors and reveals the beauty of imperfection, and that's the underlying Japanese philosophy. More than just a craft technique, the tradition is an outgrowth of the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, an ability to see beyond the fragmented and flawed. The repair method also is influenced by the Japanese feeling of mottainai, a sense of regret when something is wasted, as well as mushin, the acceptance of change – and as these values enjoy a renaissance in a world seeking to live both well and sustainably, so is the centuries-old art of Kintsugi.

When it's applied specifically to pottery repair, there are three techniques that can be used. The crack approach uses a minimal amount of metals-based lacquer, creating the thin web of discreet lines on bowls, vases or even some sculpture. Aluminium powders are sometimes used to create a silver effect.
With the piece method, an entire fragment is replaced with the Kintsugi repair epoxies and powders. The finished product might be a plate with a wedge in gold or silver to replace the broken and missing porcelain or other material; the same effect is found in brand-new dinnerware inspired by Kintsugi.

The third method is called joint-call technique, and it uses similarly shaped pieces from two different objects to create a single piece that incorporates them both by bonding their seams to each other.
Image: Pinterest
While the epoxies and metal-based lacquers are most common in the art of Kintsugi, there are other expressions. Charlotte Bailey, an English embroidery artist, combines traditional kintsugi with needlework skills instead. She'll cover the pieces of a broken cream pitcher, for example, in cloth and then stitches the fragments together with gold thread, changing them into an entirely new piece in the process. Lamps, jewelry – especially the mended hearts – and more all reflect beauty in the broken.

For those interested in learning the art of Kitugi, there are plenty of DIY kits with instructions. It's also likely that an art instructor is nearby who can help to repair beloved items, or design new ones inspired by the beauty of the Japanese tradition.
Banner image: Mora Approved