The Skies Above – The Lacquer of Mayu Nakata

2024 2/8 (thu) - 2/24 (sat)

11am – 6pm, closed on Sun/Mon/National Holidays
Final day closes at 4pm

Artist Present: February 8th (Thu) – 10th (Sat)


I first met Mayu Nakata about 8 years ago, when she was a fifth-year student at Kagawa Prefecture’s Urushi Lacquer Institute in Takamatsu in the Autumn of 2016. I had been invited as a guest speaker by the prefectural government to instill in the students there a sense of how the global art scene works, and how it would be like to exhibit at an international gallery like mine. I had no prior knowledge of the lacquer traditions of Kagawa, nor was I keen on spending several days of my already-packed schedule on an institute that surely, I had assumed, would not be spawning the great artists of tomorrow, and I had initially decided to decline the invitation.

Yet it was the contemporary art dealer Tomio Koyama, the gentleman who jump-started the careers of both Takashi Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara, and a longtime fan of our gallery’s aesthetic approach, who had nominated me for the task, and being unable to refuse a request from such an esteemed colleague, I accepted the gig and traveled to Takamatsu with no great expectations in the slightest. Little did I know at the time that, thanks to Koyama-san’s kind invitation, this seminar would be where I would meet the young lady who would eventually blossom into the greatest artist of the “kinma” style of lacquer today: Mayu Nakata.

During the course of the two-hour long lecture to a room packed to the brim with students of the Institute, one person stood out from the crowd. Mayu-san sat at the very front of the seminar hall, her eyes intently focused on the projector screen showing examples of art fairs such as TEFAF and Basel. And when it became time for Q&A, Mayu-san was the only one who raised her hand, perhaps 3 to 4 times, asking sharp questions about the international art fair circuit and what sort of works would pass muster at such fairs. I was impressed without even laying eyes on her work. But then I did.

At one glance was I blown away by not only her technical prowess, but her impressive sense of colour. It was not only her character, evident through her questions and general demeanor, that stood out; rather, it was Mayu-san’s works themselves that separated her from the crowd. But one element was lacking: her forms were clunky, traditional, and rather dull. So I told her this. If she could hone her forms into something more elegant and timeless, this would accentuate tenfold her colours and her “kinma” patterns to great new heights. Mayu-san nodded, and we kept in touch throughout the years, as she showed me each new creation she would make, taking my advice on simple yet serene forms that elevated her lacquer in bold new ways.

Three years since, Mayu Nakata would go on to debut at A Lighthouse called Kanata, with each and every lacquerwork selling to crowds the world over. The trajectory of life is a curious one, indeed. And I am so very proud to have met Mayu-san then and there, and the path that we took together to get to where we are now. Today, I present to you the first solo exhibition of Mayu Nakata at Kanata. The works will change your life and blow your mind.


Nakata has sprung forth in the world of Japanese lacquer through her innovations in reviving the ancient lacquering technique of “kinma”, imbuing it with a contemporary beauty at once both bold and electric. “Kinma” entails a painstaking process of carving patterns within a body surface and inlaying different colours within the incisions, thereby covering the entirety of the work with polished patterns imbedded within lacquer itself. Throughout Japan, it is only in Takamatsu where this technique continues to be cherished as a style of lacquer indigenous to Kagawa, where Nakata herself was trained.

Yet not only is Nakata’s technique impressive, but it is also her slick ability to create minimal and simple forms that accentuate and heighten the beauty of her lacquered patterns that has propelled her career forward. Having been selected as a finalist at the Loewe Foundation’s Craft Prize in 2019, and with four public collections already to her name, Nakata’s recognition in the world of lacquer is quickly rising.


The artist’s latest collection for her debut exhibition at Kanata illustrates Nakata’s skill with simple forms, while harnessing lacquer’s ability to be transformed into a multitude of vivid colours such as bright yellow, turquoise, greens and reds. “Kinma” is notoriously labor intensive, each work taking approximately four months to complete. The artist often says that her works are like stories that build bridges between the peoples of the past, present and future, a dialogue in time that captures the ephemeral with the eternal. The poems of Mayu Nakata have only just begun.

Wahei Aoyama, Founder

A Lighthouse called Kanata



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