Visit with Jim – Kintsugi

Today’s post and read is about the Kintsugi esthetic.  Similar to the Wabi-Sabi concept, this takes us in a new and novel direction with regards to imperfection and acceptance.   This also seems to extend the concept of imperfection into the realm of intentionality.  The story starts several centuries ago, ~15th century.  A shogun sends a ceramic teapot for repair. The Chinese artisan receives and mends the bowl with metallic staples.  


It was described as … less than attractive.   This spawned a new direction of esthetically pleasing repairs of broken, otherwise useless, earthenware.  These first repairs were thought to be ‘ugly’.  With time the breaks and fractures are  considered being part of the object, its being, essence or history.   With time the philosophy behind the repairs advance into a realm balancing pragmatism with functional AND pleasing to the eye.  More time passes,    Metallic staples become subtle metallic or ceramic filled seams that seal and bind the broken parts together.   Reconstituted the broken parts rise as a Phoenix anew from its own residuum. 

With time, repair of unintentionally broken pieces of an otherwise beautiful ceramic piece move to a new level.  The veined patterns take on a life of their own and intentionality arrives.  What would it look like if we shattered the ceramic and used the metal solder to bind it together?  Would intentional and unintentional breakage be equal as an artform?   What would it look like if we melded broken pieces of disparate vases together in a new functional and attractive bowl? A simple Google search yields an answer. 

On the left, we see imperfect become attractive.   Textures of the original vase are rough, tactile, and nearly perceptible. We can imagine the feel on our fingertips were we to run them across the lip of this jar along the surface of the repair.   It seems the craftsperson who made this repair left a small sulcus in the repaired cracks that create a sense of the surface without even touching it.  What would happen if we intentionally dropped a finished ceramic container to fracture it and create the circumstance to create these fault line repairs?

By intentionally shattering the ceramic, the artist generates the imperfections and creates the circumstances to introduce the gently winding gold, silver, copper or other repair lines.   What an interesting approach to an artform.   Much of my glass is already shattered or broken as we read in the last post.   I searched through those pieces to find the beauty in the imperfection in a new found philosophy that is Wabi – Sabi.

How would this additional technique, Kintsugi,  find its way into my photography?   What is the intentional ‘ugly’?  I started to go back into the volumes of photographs I have captured in recent years.   Some works are perfect and exquisite.  Others … metal staples perhaps, but many more are quite interesting if we step back a bit.   The rather normal acrylic pour has texture, depth, movement and liquidity that is otherwise not captured.  Was I trying to replicate another person’s artform  – always a perilous endeavor.   That person’s craft is the perfect endpoint, one that I can never achieve.  An endpoint, if reached, would mean that I have lost my artistic identity and merged with theirs.

The photographs below demonstrate an acrylic pour as it evolves.  I would typically move past these as ‘ugly’.  The process and technique is there in plain view, evident, and distracting.   Pausing, perhaps with some additional thought about Kintsugi.  Why did these four resonate?  Was there something specific to consider?  Are they more Wabi – Sabi or Kintsugi?  The state of being before the silicon was beginning to pour was pristine, intricate and complex.  Perhaps that state of acrylic pour pattern could be considered unblemished.  As the silicon pour drove itself into the surface, defects appear, dimples sink in and distracting bubbles surface …  Akin to the ceramic is intentionally dropped and broken, the otherwise perfect surface is perturbed.  

You, the community, have a  voice here.  Do you find the imperfect more  or less interesting OR simply uninteresting?  Do you want to see the perfect image?   Is the context and story of the acrylic and silicon pour stand alone art or is it simply back story?  This feels to me as though I have taken, what would be a perfect ceramic and shattered it. The dynamic details of what is happening at the intersection of the silicon pour and the surface colors and patterns fascinate me.  #fluiddynamics scientists may find this relevant to their domain where art meets science. 

The typical acrylic pour technique we commonly see does not capture this intermediate step in the process.   When we see a finished pour art … it is akin to seeing the finished ceramic before breaking it.  That endpoint is standalone art.   Here we see the step where the clay is shaped and patterned, the glaze applied, fired but then shattered.  A state of being where new patterns and beauty begins to appear.   Blending,  binding, bubbling and blurring.  These fleeting fragments of time captured by a camera and some intense lighting.  

Further along in the session of pour technique, we are able to watch the inks cascade down a miniature terrace of glass set up prior to the pour’s beginning steps. The river of color and paint are imperfect, fluid and the journey is incomplete.  Do the steppes increase interest or create distraction?  Does the motion and its attendant blurring cause you the observer to be enjoy the photograph more, or less?   Adding these intentional process steps of imperfection are intriguing to me.   This staircase effect absolutely fascinates me.   More of this experimentation over this upcoming weekend. 

Recall, my initial start in photography was to flawlessly repeat the great works of established artists – Adams, Leibovitz, Stieglitz, Weston and so many others.  I think that I have found my voice, my niche and there is an abundance to come.  Like the original artisan who thought, ‘hey, if I bind these broken fragments together, there might something remarkable … something beautiful … to discover and share here’.   I could be wrong, it will be up to me to decide, but my hunch and internal compass are telling me to go down this road, far and deep. 

Have a wonderful holiday season.  I wish you all well.   Our journeys are imperfect, but magnificent. 

Join me in a fireside chat via Zoom in the evening to discuss any aspect of my artwork.  To qualify, and join a video conversation send your contact information here and let me know what you would want to talk about.  The selected participants will receive a 25% discount on any of my unlimited edition pieces of art.  I will personally sign the piece at printing.  Even more, the gallery is offering this purchase risk free for you. Free shipping, Free return, and no questions asked if you are unhappy with the art work.  You can keep the print for 30 days to enjoy the selection in your home or office. This risk free offer does not apply to metal, acrylic and other specialized media prints.





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