But over the last year, I’ve decided to make an exception. The cause for the rethink? The work by a brass specialist named Ruka Kikuchi, better known by his nickname, Lue. I first spied it on OEN, where I’ve found other wonders like Mushimegane Books. His completely handcrafted work is simple and profoundly elegant, utterly modern and determinedly traditional.
His spoons and ladles are functional sculpture: I’m tempted to try to find a way wear them (particularly the brass tea measure) so gorgeously jewelry-like are they. And his bowls have presence but are surprisingly light, though far from fussy or delecate. They are, in fact, sublime.
Another standout: his brass serving spoons that feature a broad, round head, with an improbably thin handle. This gives this simple piece sophisticatedly primitive, almost African feel, making it more special, more magical, more like art. Similarly, the handles of his brass ladles, have a distinctly organic quality that will have you wanting to display the pieces, rather than using them.
But for Lue and the majority of Japan’s crafts people, that’s not the point. The work they do is meant to bring joy and pleasure into every day life through the use of the objects they produce.
The fact that the brass darkens and mellows as it’s used is its charm: as metal interacts with the oils of the hand and foods it touches, the piece becomes richer, taking on the patina that reflects the life of the user, forever evolving and changing. This, for the Japanese craftsperson, is the whole point.
Ruka makes his utensils and home accessories in Setouchi. in Japan’s Okayama prefecture, facing Japan’s Inland Sea. Ruka trained in metalwork under his father, Masaaki Kikuchi, before setting up Lue Brass.
To make his brass spoons, he cuts the brass into a blank. He then hammers that piece into shape using a mold. Then handle is then attached using a blowtorch. More hammering takes place to get the perfect curve into the handle.
I met Ruka on his recent trip to the US – his first trip despite the fact that his work is sold across the world, from Liberty in London to LA’s Tortoise General Store.
The occasion was his participation in a pop up shop mounted by Japan’s legendary Landscape Products company, which has brought to the US the work of a number of extraordinary Japanese craftspeople whose work embraces both tradition and modernity.
Impish-looking but quietly humble, he at first seemed bemused by the fuss made over his work. But as the opening night of the pop-up rolled on, and he watched as customers first fought over his pieces before buying them at quantity, the bemusement turned into delight, and finally burbling laughter. Not bad for a first trip to the US.
Everything he brought with him sold out in three days. Nice to know that there’s a good part of the world that knows quality when they see it