The Art of Simplicity; Elegance and Subtlety Are Key Words for Japanese Artists Today. Corinne Julius Examines Their Latest Offerings and Looks at Where You Can Buy Them

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LESS is more is a perfect description of Japanese craft and design: subtraction rather than addition. The approach is typified by product and furniture designer Shin Azumi. "We observe and distil," he says. "I always think about functionality and the service I can provide with an object.

Japanese designers care about detailing and the experience of the object in use."

His resulting designs are restrained, elegant and subtle, such as his furniture for Benchmark, which includes Bench and a Half - a wooden bench plus seatback on which to hang up a jacket, or the Air Switch light for Mathmos that is controlled by the wave of the hand.

Azumi was a finalist in the Jerwood Applied Arts prize for furniture. Muji is one of his clients and his designs epitomise the company's approach of using utilitarian materials to create objects of simplicity and beauty.

This is all summed up in the Japanese word katachi, literally meaning shape, form or type. It is also the name of a new exhibition of Japanese craft at Flow. "It symbolises the essence of Japanese design - the form, symmetry and workmanship of traditional crafts, embodying the marriage of beauty and functionality," says curator Sachiko Ewing.

Makers use resources that have played a part in Japanese life for centuries - such as paper, wood, bamboo, fibre, clay, metal and stone - but in a contemporary way. They also use new materials to extend artistic boundaries.

Kenji Toki is a good example or this. He uses rapid prototyping on carbon fibre as well as working in Urushi, an ancient form of lacquer.

Sticking to traditional techniques, Shigeki Kudo observes nature closely using a very old wood-splitting technique called Hegi, to make boxes, platters, vases and chopsticks.

Natural forms are a major influence on Japanese design. …


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