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Artists | Ando Saeko

ANDO Saeko

Ando Saeko, a Japanese art and philosophy graduate of Tokyo’s Waseda University, has lived and worked in Vietnam for over 20 years researching and practising every aspect of the Vietnamese skill in lacquer artwork. She creates unique lacquer panel works that respect the lacquer traditions of both her native Japan and that of Vietnam, but are wholly original. Although termed ‘paintings’ the painstaking process of creating these works relies on a slow building of many layers of natural lacquer, the inlaying of materials such as metallic foils and crushed eggshell, and the repeated polishing of the new surface to ensure a perfect finish. It typically takes many months, or even years, to complete a finished work.

Japanese lacquer techniques have a long artistic tradition dating back over 1000 years to the Heian period, and are famed for their exceptional technical and artistic achievements. While Vietnam shares the long-standing East Asian tradition for lacquered utilitarian objects, its lacquer paintings, son mai, are an art form dating only from the arrival of French colonists and the establishment of Hanoi’s École Superieur des Beaux Arts de l’Indochine in 1925.  Thus local tradition and materials were blended with a more Western form.

Ando Saeko’s work often focuses on the Japanese concept of utsuroi – the transience of life and the beauty to be found in ever-changing natural phenomena. For her the behaviour of Vietnamese lacquer, son ta, captures the essence of utsuroi – that moment when a spirit, kami, can transform nature. When first applied, son ta is dark and opaque, but through the passage of time it becomes increasingly translucent and vivid.

Her artistic ambition is to harness this characteristic to effect magical change that will increasingly reveal hidden depths of colour. Her artworks are therefore far from static, but imbued with a changing quality that causes the viewer to reflect on the transience of nature.

The descriptions and inspirations for the works in the gallery are written in the artist’s own words.

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