Mary Lee Pappas, a contributing writer to Arts Midwest, has composed an illustrated story about my urushi work that was published in October 2023.
Click the image to the left to access it. It is beautifully done and I am very grateful to her for getting me right.
Art in Embassies is a U.S. Department of State program that creates vital cross-cultural dialogue and fosters mutual understanding through the visual arts and dynamic artist exchanges. It presents exhibitions and installs art collections in the Department’s diplomatic facilities.
AIE selected one of my artworks, Inclination to Believe, for a 3-year display in the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi, Vietnam. Ambassador Daniel J. Kritenbrink expressed his appreciation in these words: “Your work is stunningly beautiful, and is the source of many conversations at our residence. To me, your piece represents well the talent and skill of the more than two million Vietnamese-Americans who have made such an important contribution to our great country.” I am honored to have become a participant in that fantastic program.
Ambassador Kritenbrink greeting visitors in Hanoi. Inclination to Believe raises its head on the wall behind the easel (17 June 2019).
Wonderful news! During the Art Santa Fe 2018 exhibition (12–15 July), a panel of five judges gave me a best-of-show Art Santa Fe Selects award for the artwork.
The artwork (58" × 40" × 25") consists of the skull and 7-point antlers of a large elk, entirely painted with Japanese urushi lacquer mixed with variegated metallic powder. Fragments of abalone shell and 24-carat gold powder were also sprinkled on the skull. The artwork can be anchored to a wall with a specially designed hand-wrought, signature-stamped blacksmithed iron fixture.
Wapiti Aura is part of the project “Into the Bones”
supported by the Arts Council of Indianapolis through the DeHaan Artist of Distinction Award, received in December 2017. The Art Santa Fe Selects award brings strong validation to the Arts Council’s new funding program initiative, which allows established artists to take risk and experiment with new techniques.
I have the great pleasure to announce that the Arts Council of Indianapolis and the Christel DeHaan Family Foundation have just granted me one of the first DeHaan Artist of Distinction Awards. This is a new grant program that recognizes established artists and seeks to expand awareness of contemporary art. It is provided to artists that come up with career-transformative projects that are aspirational, exploratory, and experimental. Click on this URL for the official announcement.
My project is titled Into the Bones. Part of my plan is to procure a collection of wild animal bones, skulls, and antlers and create astonishing compositions that exploit urushi’s enzymatic ability to bond to bone collagen. This largely experimental project calls for adjusting known techniques and devising new ones. My goal is to turn the shed antlers of whitetail deer and the bones of other wild animals into a conjoined foundation for a new approach to urushi art that has the potential to Americanize the medium. By uniting all these elements from nature — bones, antlers, and urushi sap — into configurations unambiguously contemporary in their esthetic manifestation, this integrative initiative will close the gap of cultural, geographic, and historical distances.
What makes Into the Bones a genuinely aspirational challenge is the sheer complexity of arranging manifold shapes, sizes, colors, and textures into harmonious wholes. Each installation will combine different scales while giving rise to contrasting clusters of effects. Bones and antlers will somehow trade (or shed again) their old identity for brand-new long-lasting ones thanks to this transformational experience. Shown at right is the skull of a mountain lion, one of five wild animal skulls I was lucky to acquire.
I am aiming to get a few installations ready for “Art Santa Fe – A Spectrum Art Show,” an international exhibition that will take place from 12 to 15 July 2018.
I am delighted to announce that I am one of the ten awardees of the 2015-2016 High Art Billboard Project!
This is the third round of a city-wide public art project organized by the Arts Council of Indianapolis in partnership with billboard company Clear Channel Outdoor. The project selected ten works of art by Indiana artists and printed them in a billboard format. They are shown around the city on a rotating basis. See more explanation and pictures of Echo in the Night under “Billboard Art” in the Public Art tab.
From October to December 2015, I was a guest researcher at Kyoto City University of Arts under Professor Natsuki Kurimoto’s supervision to further develop innovative techniques in the use of non-synthetic lacquer at a scale fit for large public places.
I researched the techniques used by a few well recognized urushi artists to successfully manufacture large-scale three-dimensional works that are displayed in spacious public venues. I learned what supports are used, how artists layer large quantities of lacquer on them, what substances they mix in the urushi, and what kinds of urushi they use for distinct layers, especially the top layer, which needs to resist ultraviolet light. I also got to understand how skillful artists manage to build and assemble the base structure to accommodate large-scale works, how they arrange their work space, how they combine urushi with modern construction materials, and how they comply with environmental concerns and safety requirements.
My research had four stages.
While in Kyoto, I gave a lecture directed to both students and faculty in which I presented a selection of my artworks, and I explained the set of artistic intentions and objectives that governed their making. I also taught an “open studio” in which I demonstrated the techniques I have been using to create some of my 2D and 3D paintings. Look at several paintings I made while in Kyoto under the Paintings tab.
First, I studied Kurimoto Sensei’s techniques, attended some of his lectures, read relevant scholarly literature, and discussed technical questions with resident experts.
Second, I studied significant public artworks displayed in different locations.
Third, I deepened my understanding of lacquer processes by consulting established artists.
Fourth, I found out what were the latest urushi materials available, and learned about their properties and the special uses they are fit for.
I am delighted to announce that the Asian Cultural Council awarded me a travel grant to support my trip in the fall to Kyoto (see above). I am filled with gratitude for the assistance thus provided me by the ACC, and especially for the recognition that comes with it of my work and efforts to increase awareness and appreciation of urushi art.
For the last few months I have been busy creating a new body of urushi work in my studio. I am using beautiful pieces of wood of various shapes that offer great potential for textural experiments. The grain of the wood provides natural recesses that welcome layers upon layers of pigmented lacquer. Sanding such complex and rugged surfaces is a whole new challenge. But so far so good: I am very pleased with the result, and so are my visitors.
20 June to 24 June 2013
I took part in the Asian Lacquer International Symposium organized by Professor Patrick Ravennes and his colleagues at SUNY Buffalo State, Buffalo, NY. This is the first conference on urushi lacquer that brought together international lacquer experts from museums and universities in China, Korea, Japan, and Myanmar, as well as from Europe and America. There were presentations from artists, art historians, conservators, curators, and scientists, in order to fully explore the many facets of Asian lacquer ware. During the week we had the opportunity to see and hear about lacquer as a living art, learn about the history of lacquer ware in different regions and cultures, explore technical aspects of the craft through history, discuss cultural differences in conservation approaches, hear the most recent scientific findings, as well as observe demonstrations by the most important artists practicing in the field today.
In the course of that symposium I presented a PowerPoint-based paper titled “Urushi in Contemporary Art” on 20 May 2013.
The program (PDF) can be downloaded here. My new painting, Regardless of Explanation, was on view as part of the concurrent “Asian Lacquer International” exhibition in the Burchfield Penney Art Center.
Having returned from my long research trip to the Tokyo University of the Arts, I am currently busy making new plans, which includes applying for two marvelous public art commission opportunities, preparing an upcoming exhibition at the Hubei Museum of Art in China, and preparing a presentation about my experience in Japan: the new techniques I have learned, and what it was like to work with the great Japanese masters and the instructors and students in the program.
10 April to 18 July 2010: Guest Researcher at the Tokyo University of the Arts (Geidai)
A rare and wonderful opportunity was offered to me! The Department of Crafts at the Tokyo University of the Arts invited me to spend a good three months as a guest researcher so that I could learn Japanese urushi techniques under the mentorship of Professors Arisumi MITAMURA and Norihiko OGURA, both internationally recognized masters of urushi art. This was a dream come true! I learned a very great deal about urushi directly from the very best specialists. The trip was full of challenges, but very rewarding in every respect. Before leaving, I had been learning the Japanese language thanks to a wonderful teacher, Black Sensei, who directs Kanji Camp in Carmel.
At the end of May, I accompanied Professors Mitamura and Ogura and their colleagues for a brief trip to China. We attended “Walking from the Age of Hemudu,” the Third International Exhibition of Chi Art and Academy Conference co-sponsored by the Fujian Art Museum and the Fujian Art and Craft Society, which took place from May 28 to June 8, 2010, at the Fujian Art Museum in the city of Fuzhou. One of my 2010 works, Dance Away, Emotion, was exhibited there as well thanks to the encouragement of my Japanese professors!
9 September to 1 October 2009: TRIP TO JAPAN
Thanks to the Creative Renewal Arts Fellowship I have received from the Arts Council of Indianapolis, I spent three weeks in Tokyo and other Japanese cities where I met many fantastic people: highly reputed professors of urushi at the University of Tokyo and renowned urushi artists who have all accepted to receive me, show me their artwork, and discuss their techniques. It was such an honor and privilege to talk to them. This was a wonderful journey of discovery, which made me expand my knowledge and my circle of Japanese artists-friends. I was accompanied by my very good friend Barbara Ford, who’s Research Curator of Asian Art at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
May 8, 2009
Great news! I am pleased to announce that I have been awarded a Creative Renewal Arts Fellowship from the Arts Council of Indianapolis! The Creative Renewal program, funded by Lilly Endowment Inc., is a two-year grant program. The first round of fellowship recipients was announced in 1999, and I had the honor to be one of them. Subsequent rounds took place in 2001, 2003, 2005, and 2007 and the sixth round just now, in 2009. Awards of $10,000 are made to each of 40 selected artists and arts administrators. “The program is designed to celebrate the work of individual artists and arts administrators and offers the participants unique and challenging ways to renew and refresh their creativity.”
Dreaming in Vivid Color: Opening Reception for the 2007-2008 Creative Renewal Arts Fellows
Arts Council of Indianapolis’ Creative Renewal Exhibition and Retrospective (2007 round of fellows)
The 2009 round of fellows was recognized on the opening day of the exhibition, on 8 May 2009 at 6:00 p.m. at the Indianapolis Arts Center, 820 East 67th Street, Indianapolis, IN 46220