Artistic and Ornamental Japanese Combs, by Miriam Slater
For the Japanese comb collector, it is helpful to be able to discern the difference between artistic and decorative pieces. Auction prices often confirm the fact that the more art qualities a a piece has, the more collectable it becomes. Decorative hair combs (which are often quite beautiful in their own right), will not possess the depth of expression seen in artistic pieces. Art is distinguished by its originality, a sense of aesthetics and clear, purposeful expression. Often, within it, one feels the presence of the maker – there is the sense that the piece has its own personality.
In this kushi and kogai set, we see a decorative floral design. On second glance we find a demonic figure hiding in the right side of the kogai stick. The inclusion of ugliness with utmost beauty makes a statement about life, which goes beyond the decorative to reveal a more evocative and poetic mood.
In the second kushi, the artist reaches beyond the decorative with a complex, beautifully executed design. On it are two separate landscapes, each one on golden, smooth lacquer fan shapes. Around these shapes, darker, roughly carved water forms flow. The movement of the water gives a feeling of excitement to the piece, especially when contrasted with the smooth texture of the fan shapes and the serene designs within them. The water even cuts into the fan forms, just as water does in real life, showing that the artist who made this gave a lot of thought to the play between the two opposing elements: surging water and serene landscapes. When an artisan goes the extra mile to create something exceptional, the result is often that ever-elusive thing we call “art.”