Japanese Version

If I were an Octopus


Lacquer work of ANDO Saeko by Simon Pilling



Coloured lacquers, shell, egg-shell and metal inlays

Each panel 60 x 15 x 1.8 cm

The work of Saeko Ando combines two lacquer traditions – those of Japan and Vietnam. While Vietnam shares a long-standing East Asian tradition for lacquered utilitarian objects, its lacquer paintings, son mai, are an art form dating only from the arrival of French colonists and the establishment of the École Superieur des Beaux Arts de l’Indochine in 1925.  Thus local tradition and materials were blended with a more Western-centric familiarity, to become a unique fine art for which Vietnam is rightly acclaimed.



Ando-san, based in Hanoi for almost 20 years researching and practicing every aspect of the Vietnamese skill, has brought to it a further rigour and technique taken from the Japanese tradition of togidashi-e where repeated layering and polishing results in a mirror finish of great depth.



“Underwater creatures fascinate me because of their diverse colours and patterns, not just found on the skin surface but lying somewhere deep amongst the translucent cells. Many of them, just like these octopuses, cleverly change their colours and patterns to protect themselves and to catch their prey.  It seems to me that Vietnamese lacquer is the only material in the world which can metamorphose into such magical composition.  Though natural Vietnamese lacquer may lack the strong glow of Japanese urushi, it has very high transparency compared to lacquer from any other country. Additionally, this transparency is not so prominent at the beginning, but as time passes, and the layers of lacquer continue their chemical reaction with the atmosphere, a greater transparency occurs, colours brighten, and details increasingly reveal themselves”. (Ando Saeko, September 2014)


Simon Pilling, MA, RIBA, FRSA is a graduate of Sotheby’s MA in East Asian Art and is based in London, UK. He is a member of the Asian Art in London group of dealers and specialises in 20th century and contemporary Japanese lacquer.

Simon’s website

Simon Pilling East Asian Art & Interiors

PO Box 40062 London N6 6XB