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.