Rinpa, a quintessential Japanese art form, is revived in a new exhibition featuring the works of Rinpa pioneer, Kamisaka Sekka. By Joshua F Greene.
Whenever I think of Japan, I imagine a land of change and striking opposites. An ageing population entrenched in custom against a backdrop of gadgets and electronic marvels. In Japan, tradition not only meets modernity – they mingle freely.
In the late 1800s, as Japan embarked on the road to modernisation, Kamisaka Sekka (1866-1942) allowed his works to be a blend of ancient Rinpa tradition and the modern European style of Art Nouveau. For this reason his paintings, lacquerware and textiles brought him international renown at the time.
The two distinctive styles already shared some common ground – both are hallmarked by simplified shapes, bold floral designs and decorative patterning. The blurring of the two disciplines is most evident in Sekka’s ‘Flowers and plants of the four seasons (1920-25)’. The rainbow palette of colours literally burst off the pale silk canvas. The depicted plant life is decorative and detailed, with lines of gold (a Rinpa tradition) delineating the leaves and petals. Although each flower is separate there is a sense of connectivity and a flow that carries the eye.
The Rinpa tradition celebrates Japanese literature and poetry as well as the beauty found in nature. Whether he was telling a story or celebrating the natural landscape, Sekka brought a timeless beauty to his work. Even though some works are almost 100 years old, the ink is still vibrant, the pattern still engaging and stories and themes, such as the four seasons, will never be outdated.
Perhaps that’s why the Rinpa tradition lives on as a reference for artists and designers today. When you visit the exhibition look out for modern works inspired by Rinpa – it’s proof that tradition and contemporary culture support one another
Kamisaka Sekka: Dawn of Modern Japanese Design, until August 26, Art Gallery of NSW, Art Gallery Road, The Domain.