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How the Japanese Art of Kintsugi Inspired Raymond Lauchengco’s Own Work

To him, the 500-year-old Japanese artform reminds him that while nothing is permanent, continuity is possible

Living, as many have said, is a herculean effort. Living in a pandemic even more so. For most people, it has been difficult. It’s tested our resolve and our resilience; it’s challenged our ability to stay afloat amidst trials; and it’s reminded us, time and time again, of our humanness—our imperfections, our flaws, and our weaknesses. But life under quarantine has also allowed us to become stronger, to retreat and rest, and come out the other side renewed. The past year, if anything, teaches us that we can mend whatever is broken; that what is in pieces can be whole again. 

Just like the Japanese art of kintsugi.

“I can’t think of anyone I know whose world wasn’t turned upside down,” says actor, singer, and director Raymond Lauchengco, who, in two weeks, will be teaching a workshop on his own take on the 500-year-old Japanese artform. “I can’t think of anyone whose life didn’t come to a screeching halt, figuratively or literally.” 

Kintsugi—which comes from the words kin, meaning “gold” or “golden,” and tsugi, which means “rejoin or repair”—is the centuries-old practice or restoring broken ceramics and highlighting the scars with liquid gold or gold dust. But Raymond is quick to clarify that while his methods have been inspired by kintsugi, his take on it is more contemporary. 

“Out of respect for the centuries-old tradition and the Japanese artisans who have mastered it, I do not refer to my work as kintsugi,” he says. “I use materials that are easily obtainable and more affordable out of a desire to make the medium accessible for practically anyone. I’ve also taken inspiration from modern architecture and finishing techniques by adding elements such as texture, or by replacing missing pieces in objects with transparent colored glass that I call ‘windows.’”

“I refer to my work as Unbroken,” he adds. 

And what a fitting thing to call it. After all, the artform shies away from camouflaging or disguising the adhesive that puts all the pieces back together. Kintsugi highlights the scars rather than hides them.

Raymond first heard about kintsugi in his church. “Although I found it fascinating, restoring something I’d normally discard without a second thought, and highlighting its imperfections to make it extraordinary, never appealed to me until l went through the year that was 2020.”

“If it is true that art mirrors life, then I believe that kintsugi—or in my case taking broken objects, and making them unbroken—could be a reflection of what it means to be human: how we all get pounded every now and then, how we all break, how we all have to pick up our broken pieces and deal with them so that we might find a way to be whole again.”

“And while we can try to conceal the scars,” he adds, “a question begs to be asked—whatever for? Our scars are proof that we have overcome difficulties. They mark time and history, and like trophies, proclaim to the world that we’ve fought and triumphed! We ought to celebrate our scars, not hide them. It is the same with broken objects that we are emotionally attached to. Instead of throwing them away, why don’t we give them a new life and bring out a new beauty in them.”

The art form is something personal to Raymond; something sacred, almost. It’s something that teaches not only him, but whoever tries it, lessons about material things, oneself, and the world around them.

“While nothing is permanent, continuity is possible,” Raymond says of the things he’s learned as he continues to be inspired by the art form. “That we should live in the present making the most of what we have and whatever situation we are in. That there is beauty in brokenness, and that scars should be celebrated, whether they belong to an object or a person.”

Practicing kintsugi can be a relaxing, calming hobby. Raymond recommends it to anyone “who has faced, and continues to face, challenges.” They can find comfort and a renewed strength from the art form, he adds. 

But, most of all, he recommends to anyone who “wants to create something beautiful out of things that would otherwise be discarded or forgotten.”

When a ceramic we are attached to falls and breaks, we throw away the pieces, Raymond says. He asks: “Why do we do that? Is it because we think it has lost it value? Why do things have to be perfect for them to have value, or beauty?”

“I personally think that perfection is overrated,” he says. “While it is admirable, it can also be cold and tiresome. Imperfection is what gives things, or people, character and tells a story. I find that much more interesting. Restoring objects rather than throwing them away teaches respect and fosters a better understanding of continuity. It’s certainly better for the environment as well.”

For Raymond, it’s important to make the art form—or at least its essence—accessible to people in these challenging times. 

“So that’s what I set out to do,” he says. “I studied books, articles, pored over photographs and videos. Then I broke a lot of things (some people thought I was crazy, and my wife didn’t approve of some of the things I broke) but I had to do it to figure out the best way to put things back together. That’s how I learned.”

“I experimented with different kinds of paint,” he adds, “all sorts of adhesives, and fillers. When I wanted to add things like texture, I adapted wall surface treatments into my work. When I wanted to add more focal points, I took inspiration from modern architecture and incorporated ‘windows’ into the restored ceramics. I also came up with a method on how to handle the paint brush so that a very light touch can be applied to the stroke while the weight of your hand rests on one finger that serves as an axis.”

For Raymond, and for many more artists and artisans that have been inspired or are practicing kintsugi, there truly is beauty in brokenness, and what else would remind us of that, if not our own brokenness, as well as the world’s?

Raymond will teach all of this and more in his online workshop on March 20. Called Unbroken, the workshop will cover kintsugi-style restoration using modern materials that are easy to source. Slots are limited; visit So True Naturals for more information. 

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 Lead photos from @raymondlauchengco