Kintsugi, ancient art of repairing the broken
This Japanese traditional craft is the art of repairing broken pieces with gold, and showing the beauty in imperfection.
Finding special meaning through art
Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken ceramics with gold. Gen Saratani is a 3rd generation urushi, or Japanese lacquer, artist. He learned the traditional technique over 25 years ago in Japan. Now an artist in New York, he uses his lacquer training for kintsugi. The Japanese craft goes back to the late 16th century. Kintsugi is an example of the broader ancient Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, an appreciation of the beauty in the imperfect and transient nature of life. It’s rooted in the beliefs of Zen Buddhism and rejects the relentless pursuit of perfection.
“People ask me what kintsugi means often as well. Originally, it just meant repairing porcelain. But since it applies urushi technique, which is pretty special, it comes out with unique patterns of gold or silver. It can be more beautiful than before it was broken, or it can give new meanings to the piece. “First, a paste is made using lacquer and flour. It’s carefully applied to the broken pieces. After a few weeks of drying, any cracks are filled with a paste. The piece is dried again and polished. Then another layer of red lacquer is applied. The final step is dust with gold or silver. The drying time between steps takes weeks. But once it's dry, the lacquer is extremely durable and resistant to moisture. First, mix urushi and flour or glue, and stick the broken pieces. Then, after drying it, mix lacquer and polishing powder and make it into a paste to fill the cracks. Dry it again and polish the piece. Now, mix the lacquer and pigments and cover the cracks again. Once that’s done, polish it again. Finally, apply the lacquer again and put gold or silver foil on top. Roughly, that’s how it’s done”, artist Gen Saratani tells Brut.
With kintsugi, gold accentuates the cracks and doesn’t try to hide the damage. Kintsugi is a delicate, time-intensive process that requires patience and precision. Kintsugi is a delicate, time-intensive process that requires patience and precision. Urushi lacquer is made from the sap of a tree that’s related to poison oak, which can severely irritate the skin. Craftsmen like Saratani spend years being exposed to the lacquer to build up an immunity. Saratani's repairs can take several months to finish. He's one of the few traditionally trained urushi artists in the U.S. given that it takes over a decade to become a master of lacquer.