Khanh Trinh Editor
John Szostak
Richard L. Wilson
Prestel Publishing, New York, 2013, English
Nonfiction, Product/Industrial Design; Nonfiction, Art and Cultural History
7.25 x 8.5 inches, hardcover, 192 pages
ISBN: 9783791347530
Suggested Retail Price: $50.00

This exquisitely produced volume focuses on the influential artist Kamisaka Sekka, who reinvented classical Japanese style, merging tradition with modernity to create an entirely new design language.

Born in the 19th century, Kamisaka Sekka was schooled in the Rinpa tradition—a classical Japanese style that incorporated scenes of nature and delicate lines. He was also at the forefront of an effort on the part of the Japanese government to broaden the country’s artistic influences. Sekka traveled to the West, which exposed him to Art Nouveau and other important styles and also made him aware of the influence of Japanese art on European painters. When Sekka returned to Japan, he brought this knowledge home with him, determined to revive Rinpa for the modern industrial consumer age. The result was a unique visual language of bold, dynamic compositions and an innovative approach to production that cemented his reputation as one of the great visionaries of modern Japanese design.

This lavishly illustrated volume explores the evolution of Rinpa, comparing Sekka’s work to that of other masters. Beautiful reproductions of Sekka’s scroll and screen paintings and designs for lacquerware, ceramics, and textiles demonstrate how Sekka reimagined the traditional arts of Japan. The book also explores the enduring impact of Rinpa on contemporary Japanese art and fashion, including works by the artist Ai Yamaguchi and the fashion designer Akira Isogawa. 

A Designers & Books Notable Design Book of 2013
On 1 book list
Norman Weinstein

This sensitively written and finely produced catalogue accompanying last year’s exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Australia of the work of the artist Kamisaka Sekka offers a visionary re-thinking of the classical Japanese style known as “Rinpa.” For Westerners unfamiliar with Rinpa, Richard Wilson’s introductory essay offers a concise overview of this style, which showcases the natural world suffused with poetic lyricism and which dominated both fine and applied Japanese arts from the 16th to the end of the 19th century.

This historical preface opens a pathway into the heart of the book: the 300 plus color illustrations of Sekka’s art accompanied by Trinh’s biographical and artistic account of how Sekka matured into a leading figure in the evolution of modern Japanese design. Essentially, Trinh presents Sekka as a liminal artist par excellence. A world traveler aware of the Western art world’s emergent fascination with Japanese aesthetics at the birth of the 20th century, Sekka possessed both the taste and sensibility needed to treat traditionally stylized Japanese nature imagery with a robust experimental spirit and a healthy dose of humorous irreverence. Sekka’s woodblock book of satiric designs from 1903 risked outright vulgarity (one dog sniffing the excrement of another) when not mocking sterile imitation of traditional motifs (a Japanese character becomes stylized into a menacing cartoonish devil).

In a serious vein, Sekka’s reformulation of landscape designs for silk kimonos approached the threshold of pure abstract patterns. He emboldened subdued colors from the floating world, the dreamy palette of Buddhist Weltschmerz, and injected a blazing chromatic force, the effect being akin to shouting uncontrollably during the conventional silence of Zen meditation. Even more surprising was Sekka’s willingness to appropriate Rinpa-like odes to nature’s bountiful flora by way of closely borrowing ideas from William Morris’s textiles.

By blurring distinctions between imaginative Japanese and Western biomorphic designs, and by mocking stale formulaic and clichéd Japanese folk art traditions while vibrantly revitalizing others, Sekka influenced Japanese designers in our time, including neo-Pop painter Ai Yamaguchi and fashion designer Akira Isogawa. Illustrations of their art conclude this eye-opening volume.

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