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Golden and Imperfect: the Influence of Kintsugi

In a world increasingly obsessed with the shiny and new, a timeless art form exists that champions the beauty of imperfection and celebrates the scars of history. Kintsugi is a centuries-old Japanese art form that involves the tedious repair of pottery by mending areas of breakage with a lacquer mixed with metallic powders. Traditionally, this lacquer was made of tree sap. The powders are most commonly made with gold, but can also be created with silver, platinum, or other precious materials. Kintsugi treats damage as a part of an object’s history, rather than something to be disguised. Kintsugi does not necessarily make an object functional again but gives it a new life as a unique piece of art.

Kintsugi has no clear origin, but it is believed to have originated in the 15th century. Legend has it that the art form began when Japanese shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa sent a tea bowl back to China to be repaired. The shogun was displeased when the bowl came back to Japan mended with metal staples. Craftsmen were motivated to create a new, aesthetically pleasing way to repair ceramics, one that would not only mend but elevate ceramics into the realm of artistry. By the 17th century, kintsugi became a popular method of repair in Japan. These unique bowls and vases became even more valuable after breaking through this art form. Many people, entranced by the revolutionary art form, began to deliberately smash their pottery, eager for a golden transformation.

Kintsugi is far more than an art form. It also functions as a philosophy that embraces and amplifies flaws. Kintsugi is closely related to the Japanese philosophy of Wabi-Sabi, which sees beauty in imperfection, mottainai, which laments when something is wasted, as well as mushin, the acceptance of change. Within this tapestry of ancient ideas, the depth of Kintsugi’s influence is uncovered. Numerous contemporary artists incorporate Kintsugi techniques and philosophies into their art. Through their work, they keep Kintsugi alive in innovative ways that inspire the beauty of picking up shattered pieces and beginning again. 

Charlotte Bailey

Based out of the UK, embroidery artist Charlotte Bailey translates Kintsugi techniques into a new canvas: fabric. Bailey creates patchwork vases sewn together with metallic thread. Bailey was inspired by kintsugi because it “seems so at odds with our modern Western ‘throwaway culture' that seldom values the craft inherent in an object, or the significant and valuable social and cultural role.”  

Bailey carefully covers broken pottery with a sheet of fabric, which she then stitches over using bright threads.

Charlotte Bailey
Charlotte Bailey

Karen LaMonte

Karen LaMonte creates monumental sculptures of women’s clothing, worn by invisible figures. She explores culture, identity, and environment through various materials and subjects. When a kiln fire ruined one of her kimono sculptures, LaMonte used kintsugi to repair the piece. This was an appropriate choice considering the subject and technique were both Japanese. LaMonte described repairing these massive sculptures as “working on a giant 3D jigsaw puzzle.” They were shattered into hundreds of pieces of various sizes. She detailed the process in a series of photographs, available to view on her website. According to LaMonte, these kimono pieces examine impermanence, imperfection, and the passage of time.

Kintsugi Sculpture by Karen LaMonte
Kintsugi Sculpture by Karen LaMonte 

Victor Solomon

When a Los Angeles basketball court became cracked and damaged, artist Victor Solomon employed kintsugi techniques to repair it. In 2020, Solomon, inspired by the heartbreak of the pandemic, used golden resin to fill in each crack, transforming the court into a public art piece that was functional as well. The court was accompanied by matching gold hoops. "I fell in love with the aesthetics and symbolism of the kintsugi process and this idea of celebrating imperfections as a formative part of an object's journey," Solomon told Dezeen. "To me, the court has always represented a place for everyone, from every background, to come together with a common purpose," he added. The unveiling of the court coincided with the return of the NBA season, which had been suspended due to the pandemic.

Kintsugi Court
Victor Solomon, Kintsugi Court

Glen Martin Taylor

Glen Martin Taylor works in reconstructed ceramics; he pieces together broken shards with various materials. Inspired by Kintsugi, he replaces materials of broken pottery. However, instead of using gold lacquer, he patches up the pieces with everyday objects, such as twine or wire. The repairing materials are not always beautiful themselves, such as rusted barbed wire or old wooden beads. For him, the act of repairing the piece is just as important as destroying it. Within these two phases, he frees his emotions and confronts them by constructing pieces that lose their primary purpose, but not their beauty. “The Japanese art of Kintsugi has inspired me to express the feeling of the brokenness of humans that so many people are feeling right now, including me,” he told DeMilked.

Glen Martin Taylor, My Grandmother
Glen Martin Taylor, My Grandmother's China

While contemporary artists have adapted and transformed the traditional techniques and materials of Kintsugi, their dedication ensures the continued vitality of this traditional art form. Presently, Kintsugi serves as both a philosophical approach and a practical method of restoring fractured objects. These modern artists have ingeniously integrated this tradition into a wide array of cultural art forms worldwide, from grand sculptures to basketball courts.

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