Kamisaka Sekka and Art of Japan: Changing Sands and Rimpa

Kamisaka Sekka and Art of Japan: Changing Sands and Rimpa

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times


The artist Kamisaka Sekka (1866-1942) lived in a very dramatic period in the history of Japan. He was too young to remember the ending of the Edo Period because the Meiji Restoration occurred in 1868. Despite this, art in Japan would alter dramatically because of modernization and the increasing influence of Western art. After all, unlike the Edo Period, Meiji Japan was focused on opening-up to the outside world. The dark side of this reality is that Western colonialism throughout Asia meant that Japanese leaders also focused on aspects of the Western colonial disease, with regards to nationalism. However, overall the Meiji Revolution was just that, it altered the political, economic, industrial and other landscapes that had impacted on Japan for centuries throughout the Edo Period.

In the art world of Japan the amazing artist Sekka would gain dramatically from the changing sands in relation to art. These new artistic horizons would impinge greatly on Sekka, just like it would for other artists. Of course, like all revolutions traditional art represented by Japanese woodblock prints would soon become seen to be too limited. Despite this, amazing Ukiyo-e artists throughout the Meiji Period would keep the gates at bay to some extent. However, technological changes meant that the Floating World would soon be floating in a world of modernization and facing real challenges from various Western art forms.


Sekka during his artistic career embodied aspects of traditional art and concepts that impacted greatly in the past. However, he also fused this with artistic concepts from different Western art forms. On top of this, Sekka was born in Kyoto therefore the richness of culture and history in this amazing city inspired him greatly. Indeed, one can only imagine how the changing artistic sands must have felt in amazing traditional cities like Nara and Kyoto – and other powerful areas like Kamakura and Nikko that are blessed with a rich cultural and religious legacy in relation to Buddhism.


From the outset his artistic path was firmly focused on the rich traditions of Rimpa but at all times Sekka was open to the changes impacting greatly on Japan during the Meiji Period. Unlike the past, the government of Japan was focused on learning major areas from powerful industrial nations. In the field of art, this modern and progressive reality meant that the government would fund many artists to study in distant lands.


Sekka in 1910 was sent to the United Kingdom and during his time in Glasgow the art form called Art Nouveau impacted greatly on him. At the same time, Sekka was also fascinated about the role of Japonisme that attracted many Western artists. This reality meant that his time in Glasgow was richly rewarding for Sekka. Therefore, while Sekka was always inquisitive prior to living in Glasgow, it is equally true that his time in Scotland influenced him greatly just like the Paris International Exposition in 1901 had enlightened him.


In another article by Modern Tokyo Times it is stated: “The combination of studying the masters of Rimpa in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and the trends of the West in the early twentieth century; meant that a new creative spark was being ignited within his artistic soul. Sekka also embraced the traditional dimensions of Rimpa and this applies to a broad array of areas. The upshot of this was that Sekka focused on hanging scrolls and painted screens, lacquers, ceramics, books based on woodblock-prints, and textiles.”


The Art Institute of Chicago states: “Sekka was born when Japan was emerging on the world stage and redefining itself in the face of the West. 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.”


It is known internationally in the art world that Sekka was deemed to be one of the greatest artistic sons of Japan in relation to the first half of the twentieth century. At the same time, it is claimed that he was the final major jigsaw in the art form called Rimpa. This rich artistic tradition had served Japan greatly throughout the Edo Period from the seventeenth century onwards. Also, the same respect is bestowed on Sekka when it applies to modern design in the land of the rising sun. Therefore, the legacy of Sekka remains strong today because this amazing individual understood the majesty of the old world, while being open to new concepts and taking in many aspects of the new world.



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