Saturday, January 31, 2009


I was curious about the work of George Nakashima. It wasn't what I expected. I was anticipating something with a stronger influence of traditional oriental forms. Especially after I had learned that he was taught Japanese joinery techniques from an old master while in an internment camp. What I found was nature meets sixties modern. I like some aspects of his work, the natural form being one. In many cases, the use of a rather uninspiring tapered round leg (reminds me of Danish modern) seems to clash with nature. Some might view this clash as contrast, but it reminds me of cheap sixties magazine tables from the Blue Chip Stamp store (yes, I am old enough to remember that stuff). Consider this piece:

Slab Coffee Table w/magazine shelf, Nakashima, 1957

More vintage work can be found at the Moderne Gallery

However, some pieces are effective for me such as this one:

Side Table, Nakashima, Date unknown (probably about 1965 as this was made for Nelson Rockefeller’s Japanese House at Pocantico. An existing Japanese Style complex was redone for Nelson Rockefeller at Pocantico in the mid 1960s)

So why is the side table more effective than the coffee table? The interaction of line and form. The tops of both tables are very similar, slabs with angled ends. However, it is the choice of support for the top that makes the difference. In the side table,the forms of the support are highly referential to the top. In the coffee table, the legs are so formally disconnected, mechanical even. In the side table, directional nature of the support complements that top; vertical for angular contrast and horizontal for balance. The coffee table legs jut out at odd angles; they are not at peace with the top. The formal tension combined with the angular tension overwhelms the piece. I think that Nakashima may have been able to get away with the formal components if he had chosen to insert the legs on pure vertical line to the horizontal orientation of the top.

1 comment:

Squerl said...

Sorry Stephen, I am not "feeling" this artist at all, at least not in either of the pix you posted. The coffe table is early 1960s ugly motel, the other one looks like the altar I built as a kid for a fort. This was after seeing the movie "Lord of the Flies," Your descriptions of the blue chip store were excellent though! I appreciate your blogs. Squerl