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Japanese art and Kamisaka Sekka: Rimpa, modernism and European influence

Japanese art and Kamisaka Sekka: Rimpa, modernism and European influence

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The artist Kamisaka Sekka (1866-1942) is one of the most mysterious Japanese artists to have hit the international world of art. This applies to his magical artwork which expresses the finer aspects of traditional Japanese art but fused with modernism and the impact of European art. Therefore, Kamisaka Sekka was an artist which belonged equally to the old world and new world of art which was impacting on the Japanese art scene.

Kamisaka Sekka was born in the cultural city of Kyoto and one can only imagine the splendor he must have witnessed in his early life. This similarly applies to the stunning reality of Kansai and places like Nara and Koyasan where religion, traditions and Japanese high culture, remains vibrant in the modern world.

The internal convulsions that hit Japan after the Meiji Restoration in 1868 radically altered the body politic of this nation. Indeed, Kamisaka Sekka lived in a period blighted by regional wars and major international wars. This reality highlights the convulsions that were sweeping through many nations whereby nationalism, capitalism, the colonial period, communism, technological innovations, religion, secularism, and so many different forces, were shaping the world for either the better or worse.

However, in the field of art then the same period provided enormous opportunities for Japanese artists to study various different art forms and to travel the world. Kamisaka Sekka would indeed travel to learn about new concepts and to open-up his artistic horizons to an even greater level. True to the nature of Kamisaka Sekka he gained enormously from his travels and studying about new art forms. However, he never lost sight of the power of Rimpa and the inner beauty of Japanese art.

From a very early age it was clear that Kamisaka Sekka was blessed with amazing artistic skills. In the early period he focused heavily on the traditions of Japanese Rimpa. However, he was always open to new art forms and styles. Therefore, modernism and traditions fused naturally together within his heart and this is the beauty of Kamisaka Sekka.

In an earlier article about Kamisaka Sekka I state that “In 1910 the Japanese government sent Kamisaka Sekka to the United Kingdom and while he stayed in Glasgow the Art Nouveau style would influenced him greatly. Kamisaka Sekka was also fascinated by Japonisme and he wanted to understand the attraction of Japanese art in the West and which areas appealed the most. Therefore, his time in Glasgow was most rewarding because his studies enlightened him in many areas.”

Also, the trip to Glasgow in 1910 further cemented his deep admiration of aspects of European art. His earlier trip to Europe in 1901 had impacted greatly on Kamisaka Sekka because the Paris International Exposition opened up his eyes to new fresh ideas and concepts.”

One can only imagination how the environment of Kyoto and his studies of Rimpa masters who blessed the Japanese art world had impacted on Kamisaka Sekka. Added to this were major Western art forms like Impressionism and Art Nouveau which reached his heart. Also, Kamisaka Sekka was fascinated about the impact of Japanese art on Western art. Therefore, in a world being torn apart by nationalism and politics you had artists like Kamisaka Sekka who studied the beauty of humanity and the power of different cultures.

The Art Institute of Chicago comments that “Centuries-old schools of art, such as the decorative Rimpa style with its quintessential Japanese literary and seasonal themes, had become unfashionable. To help keep the country’s unique artistic culture afloat, the government established a policy to upgrade the status of traditional artists that encouraged them to infuse their craft with a dose of modernism. Consequently, in 1910 Sekka was sent abroad to Glasgow, where he was heavily influenced by Art Nouveau. He came home to teach at the newly opened Kyoto Municipal School of Arts and Crafts. Thanks to Sekka, the Rimpa tradition remains a signature of Kyoto design to this day.”

Kamisaka Sekka highlights how individuals can learn new artistic thought patterns and art forms but remain within the initial environment despite fusing new ideas. He truly is an international artist who pushed new internal boundaries in order to produce stunning pieces of art. Therefore, when viewing his finest pieces of art you can feel many different things related to the past and modernity. This quality was done in a way which was not only natural but is strikingly unique and beautiful.

Many amazing artists have been born in Japan and without a shred of doubt Kamisaka Sekka belongs to the crème de la crème of Japanese art. His creativity and connection with the old world and modernism enabled him to reach new heights and to highlight many artistic angles.

 

http://www.vlinder-01.dds.nl/cdr/other%20art/sekka.htm

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

http://moderntokyotimes.com

 
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Posted by on July 24, 2012 in EUROPE, Japan

 

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Japanese art and Nishikawa Sukenobu: Imperial city of Kyoto, women and politics

Japanese art and Nishikawa Sukenobu: Imperial city of Kyoto, women and politics

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Nishikawa Sukenobu was born in 1671 and until his death in the middle of the eighteenth century, this stunning artist opened up aspects of the role of women in Japanese society. Also, with Sukenobu being based in Kyoto then this provides a rarity within the ukiyo-e art movement. Therefore, with Sukenobu being based in the imperial city of Kyoto this provided him with more freedom and his thinking would be influenced by the environment he resided in.

It is stated about this stunning artist that his images of women were more natural and unassuming and this fact left a lasting legacy. From the political point of view, he appears to have been disenchanted with bakufureforms which were infringing on artists. However, instead of accepting these reforms he appears to have rebuked the bakufu by expressing his thinking through his artwork.

Jenny Preston, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, comments that “Between 1710 and 1722, Sukenobu published some fifty erotic works; following the Kyôhô reforms of 1722 outlawing erotica, he began producing works generally categorized as fûzoku ehon — versions of canonical texts, poems and riddles, all executed in a contemporary idiom. This study contends that these works were an expression of political disaffection; that Sukenobu used first the medium of the erotic, then the image-cum-text format of the children’s book to articulate anti-bakufu and pro-imperialist sentiment.  This radical re-reading of Sukenobu’s work is supported by close reference to the literary output of his numerous collaborators, to contemporary diary and pamphlet literature, and to the corpus of Edo and Kyoto machibure edicts. The study will hopefully shed new light on the role of popular art in the eighteenth century, and its profound political engagement.”

The research by Jenny Preston is very important because it highlights that artists couldn’t be fully constrained by bakufu reforms in their entirety. If, like stated, he had pro-imperial sentiments then this confirms his attachment to Kyoto and the power mechanisms of this city. Also, it shows that the bakufu would tolerate certain dissent in this period but at the same time central institutions were worried about the impact of art when it was deemed unsavory to the sentiments of the bakufu.

The University of Alberta Art Collection website comments that “Nishikawa Sukenobu was a Japanese woodblock print designer, book illustrator and painter. Unlike most of his contemporaries, who worked out of Edo, Sukenobu was based in the imperial capital, Kyoto. He produced book illustrations for the celebrated Kyoto publisher Hachimonjiya Jishō, as well as drawings for several kimono pattern sample books which portray scenes of women choosing kimonos. Sukenobu is best known for his orihon (folded books) and for his unsurpassed skill in presenting graceful and charmingly realized beauties. Sukenobu’s work greatly influenced numerous artists throughout the history of ukiyo-e.”

This bio by the University of Alberta is just highlighting brief facts about Sukenobu but it is clear that this individual artist is viewed with great acclaim when it comes to his depiction of women. Also, the Kyoto angle is highlighted and clearly Sukenobu is opening up a window to the fashion styles of this period in Kyoto. Similarly, he is providing a glimpse into the world of Kyoto with regards to the role of women in society.

Therefore, irrespective if the glimpse is limited or based on a male perception, it is still of cultural importance because his images are very realistic. For this reason, Sukenobu is of great importance because he opens up the keys to imperial Kyoto and the freedoms of women within certain areas of life.

His artwork called Appreciating 100 Women (Hyakunin joro shinasadame) is highly acclaimed because he covers a broad spectrum of different themes. This focus also highlights that his world was very rich and that he could mix easily irrespective of the situation. Therefore, Hyakunin joro shinasadame focuses on issues from the empress to ladies who were employed in the sex trade. Also, irrespective of the subject matter in this series of images, the importance is the style he did this in because the images are very realistic and this reality is what makes his work so powerful.

In another article about Sukenobu which was published by Modern Tokyo Times it was stated that “…with Sukenobu focusing on women from various different classes then he opens up the reality of old Japan. This in itself is very fascinating because it provides glimpses into the Edo period and this applies to stratification, roles of women, and freedom of women in Japan in this period. Therefore, the Hyakunin joro shinasadame is very important with regards to not only art but because it also relates to social issues and thought patterns of the day.”

“Sukenobu also highlights aspects of fashion with regards to elegant kimono designs. Indeed, many kimono-makers commissioned Sukenobu because of his creativity and the fact that he focused heavily on beautiful women and their lifestyle. Therefore, kimono-makers believed rightly that he could focus on new textile designs and this fact highlights the popularity of his work.”

The political angle to Sukenobu is also extremely fascinating and the same applies to the huge cultural differences within Japan. Imperial Kyoto had many different political intrigues and the world of Sukenobu meant that he was mainly an “outsider” in the world of ukiyo-e.

 

http://www.scholarsresource.com/browse/artist/2142567952 

http://collections.museums.ualberta.ca/uaac/uaac/details.aspx?key=18058&r=1&t=1

http://www.soas.ac.uk/jrc/awards-and-grants/kayoko-tsuda-bursary-recipients.html

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com 

http://moderntokyotimes.com 

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2012 in Japan

 

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Japanese art and Yokoyama Taikan: stunning art

Japanese art and Yokoyama Taikan: stunning art

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Yokoyama Taikan (1868-1958) was born in the prefecture of Ibaraki but he moved to Tokyo in 1878. This period of history in Japan would witness many events because time didn’t stand still during the Meiji, Taisho, and Showa periods of history. Not surprisingly, some of his work during the nationalist period was tinged by the sentiments of the time. Therefore, not all images of Mount Fuji by Yokoyama Taikan were solely based on art because they also had a political angle. However, irrespective of political issues, the artist himself was blessed with rich skills and his legacy is great.

When Yokoyama Taikan was a teenager he was fascinated by western style oil paintings and he was also interested in the English language. During his university days fellow classmates included Saigo Kogetsu, Hishida Shunso, and Shimomura Kanzan. This extremely talented bunch would all become famous in their own right and Yokoyama Taikan also studied under Hashimoto Gaho.

Once Yokoyama Taikan had graduated he entered the world of academia and this applies to teaching in Kyoto and then returning back to Tokyo to teach at the Tokyo Bijutsu Gakko. However, loyalty was very important to him therefore when Okakura Kazuko (Okakura Tenshin) was forced out of his job because of political reasons he also resigned. This highlights the importance of his background and the fact that he was principled to things that he believed in.

The death of his wife was followed by a period of travelling to Berlin, Boston, Calcutta, London, Paris, New York, and other cities. This must have impacted greatly on Yokoyama Taikan because each place had its own culture and the art world would have varied greatly.

Events in the 1930s eventually led to the Second World War and this meant that artists were being watched carefully in Japan and in other powerful nations. According to the Princeton University Art Museum with regards to art in Japan in this period, it is stated that “One artist who thrived in the ultra-nationalist pre-war environment was Yokoyama Taikan (1868–1959). Born at the beginning of the Meiji period, Yokoyama trained with Okakura early in his career. In 1931, he was appointed as artist to the imperial household, and produced numerous works that drew upon Japanese historical and literary themes. These he presented in a traditional style that drew upon the decorative styles of the Rinpa school and Momoyama–era screen painting. In 1943, Taikan became the chair of the Japan Art Patriotic Society (Nihon Bijutsu Hokokukai), which was set up by the Ministry of Education in an attempt to control the creative output of the country’s artists and put it in the service of its war-time ideology. Taikan in fact joined a number of other prominent artists in choosing to demonstrate his patriotism by contributing the profits from the sale of his works to the military effort.”

It must be remembered that artists, film stars, writers, and so forth, were put in the frontline at home irrespective if the artist resided in America, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, or in other nations which took part in the war. The loyalty that Yokoyama Taikan showed towards his mentor during his early life was part and parcel of his character. Therefore, he naturally followed the ideals of the society that he resided in during a time of crisis.

The legacy of his art isn’t in doubt because Yokoyama Taikan produced many stunning pieces of art and he influenced many important artists. Throughout his life he was always looking for new ideas and angles. Hopefully, this article and the images on view will entice some readers to delve more deeply into his life.

http://etcweb.princeton.edu/asianart/timeperiod_japan.jsp?ctry=Japan&pd=Modern 

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

http://moderntokyotimes.com

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2012 in Japan

 

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