Kintsugi, often translated as golden joinery, is a Japanese art form, in which lacquer mixed with metallic powders of gold, silver and platinum is used to repair the cracks in broken pottery.
The bespoke nature of crack patterns combined with the regal aesthetics of these fine metals produces stunning designs, while embodying the principle of wabi-sabi, a Japanese philosophy which calls for seeing the beauty in the broken or flawed.
So, how did this technique originate? How does it work? And how are people using it today?
Many scholars place the first instance of kintsugi in Kyoto, Japan, during the late 15th century.
The 8th shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate, Ashikaga Yoshimasa, was said to have broken a favourite teacup of his, and sent it back to China for repair.
Frustrated with the unsightly stapling technique used to mend pottery at the time, he gave the piece to local Japanese craftsmen who were tasked with restoring it – rising to the challenge, they transformed the cup into a jewel, filling the cracks with powdered gold and joining it with clear lacquer.
“Using lacquer for repair is something very old in all Asian countries that are familiar with lacquerware. Lacquer has a strong glue power and is water- and heat-resistant. Adding metallic powder to show the repair is a way to make the repair visible, and to enhance it as part of the object’s history. The long use, then enhancing the oldness of the objects, is also a way to show others how important they are. For example, a tea master using an old bowl repaired with kintsugi shows honorific consideration for his guest.”
Beatrice Quette, Asian Collections Curator of the Museum of Decorative Arts (Paris)
Drawing a rich heritage, modern artists and creators have maintained a keen interest in kintsugi, seeking out fresh and exciting ways to apply the philosophy.
Los Angeles artist Victor Solomon produced a stunning reimagination of the technique on a much larger scale.
In his installation “Kintsugi Court” – Solomon transformed a run-down basketball court in a south LA neighbourhood, clearing dirt and weeds from the largest cracks in the surface, and filling them with gold-dusted resin to create a stunning (and still playable!) end product. The piece provided a visualisation of how underfunded services in lower-income neighbourhoods can be transformed with minimal resources, and the use of creativity.
The sport of basketball is one that permeates urban communities across the US and is a drawing point for much of Solomon's sport-focused fine designs. Check out his instagram @victorsolomon for more inspiration.
The technique still permeates the works of premier luxury art and design today.
In a more traditional setting, French artist Sarkis was commissioned by ceramic makers Bernardaud to create a kintsugi dinnerware collection for their 150th anniversary.
The dozen plates are each uniquely adorned with 24k gold-dusted resin against luxurious white porcelain. Sarkis himself commented that as well as his passion and curiosity of the ancient technique, his inspiration for the set was drawn from the question “What if I held a dinner for 12 very different guests… would they get along?” The element of randomness is key to the designs and reflects the interaction of personalities, cultures and experiences found at a dinner table.
While kintsugi might describe a particular technique, the philosophy of nurturing and repairing our existing possessions is one that all designers can learn from.
How could you apply the idea of kintsugi in your own craft? Let us know!