Artist from Japan who simplified the world he was depicting into almost abstract forms.
Kamisaka Sekka was born in 1866 when Japanese art was on the verge of a great change. Centuries-old schools of woodblock printing had become a sensation in Europe but here, at home, they lost their appeal and were considered out-of-fashion.
Japanese authorities wanted to keep the country’s unique cultural tradition alive. The government decided to finance efforts of artists working in traditional styles to infuse their craft with a dose of modernism.
Kamisaka was one of them. He has come to fame with a version of the style called rinpa, known for the quintessential Japanese literary and seasonal themes. Artists working within that style depicted plants, grasses, fish, birds, animals, landscapes and scenes from the literary classics. Some art prints were remarkably simple.
In 1910 he was sent to Glasgow to get to know and study modern Western art. In Scotland, Kamisaka was heavily influenced by the ideas and practices of Art Nouveau movement. His work remains, however, very Japanese in both subject matter, and style.
After his return to Japan, he started to teach at the newly opened Kyoto Municipal School of Arts and Crafts. Thanks to him, the rinpa tradition remains a signature of Kyoto design to this day.
Colour and abstraction
The key to his style is his love of intense colour, clear graphic lines and abstracted high-contrast environments. Every Sekka’s work is charged with the most ravishing colour, applied with the knowledge that a touch of bright red can make a pale, blank space feel alive.
And now that simplicity. He cherished and practiced it in his art prints to the point of almost abstraction. In his art prints objects like flowers, people or trees had become mere shapes interacting with each other.
Was his style of painting under the influence of modern artistic ideas he came to know in Europe? Or the result of studying the old masters of rinpa? Most probably, both. That blending of Eastern tradition and Western progressiveness is what making Sekka so captivating.