Lexus has released the fourth in its short film series celebrating craftsmanship: In Search of Takumi – Wood, in which artist Sally Burnett creates a beautiful sculpture inspired by wood design elements found in the Lexus RX L seven-seat SUV.
The new film can be viewed here: In Search of Takumi – Wood
Each In Search of Takumi film draws parallels between the fine craftsmanship featured in a Lexus car and the detailed work of a highly skilled UK artisan as they create a piece of artwork inspired by a different Lexus model and material. The first three films illustrated the work of leather worker Otis Ingram, glassmaker Peter Layton, and blacksmith Will Barker, influenced respectively by the Lexus LC Coupe and the LS and ES saloon models.
In this latest film, Burnett took inspiration from the spindle grille, the stitching, and perforations in the leather upholstery and the shimamoku wood used for steering wheel and door trim in the Lexus RX L, to create a beautiful wooden sculpture. The piece was made from sustainably sourced English Sycamore, which was around 100 years old. According to Burnett, although this type of wood is considered to be relatively plain, it is the perfect “canvas” as it is a hardwood. This means carving, painting, and adding embellishments is relatively easy. “Wood is very special,” Burnett commented, “it’s a living material and you have to respect that. It will move even when the piece is finished. Quite often it will change with the seasons, so you have to accommodate that in the way that you work.”
Once the piece of wood was delivered, Sally hoisted the 50kg log onto a lathe, then turned the wood to create an egg-like shape. The wood then had to be dried very slowly so it didn’t crack. The next stage was to add detail by hand: painting, carving and carefully applying a bronze-coloured silver leaf. The entire process, from tree to finished sculpture, took almost seven months, including around 300 design hours.
There are many parallels between Burnett and the takumi craftspeople who oversee the making of Lexus cars. The takumi dedicate years to mastering their skills and never stop learning, improving, and refining their work to achieve perfection. Burnett has always been a craftsperson, starting with glass, before moving on to ceramics and tile making. When a wood craftsman fitted a set of elm doors in her cottage and gave her a wood lathe as a present, she decided to start working with wood herself. From there, she joined a local woodturning club and took lessons from professional wood turner Tracey Owens, who is now a mentor and good friend. Burnett continues to hone her skills and in creating the stunning wood sculpture for Lexus, has added a new skill to her repertoire: “I’ve never worked with hand-carving chisels before, but I needed to learn how to use them to create this piece.”
A number of design elements from the seven-seat Lexus RX L SUV were incorporated into the piece, as Burnett explained: “The more intrigued I was by the different facets, angles, textures, the more compelled I became to make the piece more complicated. The wood that’s inside the car was really quite fascinating. The steering wheel is just a joy to hold and the surface, although it has a lot of texture, is actually quite smooth to the touch. I really liked the colour and the richness and the tones within it. It’s a very deep colour that I wanted to replicate, and that’s one of the reasons I opted to use the bronze-dyed silver leaf.”
Burnett learned much from the project: “For me, Lexus as a brand is all about luxury, quality and craftsmanship and I think some of those things are now missing in everyday life. As a craftsperson, takumi makes you aspire to a standard; it raises the bar, and that was very important for me. Most of the craftspeople working with Lexus have been doing it for decades. I still consider myself to be very much at the beginning of my journey, but I know where I want to get to, so I hope all my work meets that quality.”