Kamisaka Sekka – Serenity & Modernity of Japanese Design

At the Art Gallery of NSW the exhibition Kamisaka Sekka: dawn of modern Japanese design opens on 22nd June and runs until August, although in two parts due to the fragile nature of the works. Many of them can only be displayed for a short period so the exhibition will close for two days to change 100 or so of them over. The major lender for the exhibition is the Hosomi Museum, Kyoto, which is recognized as housing one of the most extensive and superb, insightful and inspirational collection of Sekka’s art in Japan. Other loans come from the private collections of the descendants of Sekka as well as the other crafts artists with whom he originally collaborated. The exhibition consists of over 100 exquisite paintings, ceramics, textiles, woodblock prints and drawings and is the first time that such a comprehensive display of his design work has been shown in Australia.

The combination of the traditions attached to the serenity of Japanese design when fused with western contemporary culture, was dictated by such modernists as Kamisaka Sekka (1866 – 1942), who in 1910 went to Glasgow in Scotland to study western arts and crafts as he wanted to understand their fascination with what the French called Japonisme, the influence of the arts of Japan on those in the west. He brought the west and east together in a bold new way, producing dynamic designs that led to him also devising an innovative approach to craft production. The Japanese artist Kamisaka Sekka in the east became known as a great visionary of his age and a master of Japanese decorative arts.

Like his European counterparts, Sekka realised that in the future the role of design – including industrial, interior and graphic design would dominate contemporary art and aesthetics. His turned kiri-wood kogo incense case decorated with camellias with a silver rim reflects the refinement of his art. He advocated a close collaboration between diverse media, embracing the idea of an artist as a designer. He also worked with many artisans, who made objects based on his designs. Sekka’s paintings on scrolls and screens, drawings for lacquer ware decoration, his designs for both ceramics and textiles revived the decorative tradition of Rinpa – a quintessentially Japanese style popular in Japan since the early 1600’s.

Since Zen became the prevailing mode of thought the art of, what once Europeans referred to as the Far East, design has purposefully avoided bi- lateral symmetry, expressing not only completion but repetition. Formality and uniformity of design was considered fatal to the freshness of the imagination. Thus landscapes, birds and flowers became the favourite subject for depiction, rather than the human figure. The latter being present only in the person of the beholder himself.

It is a fact that virtually all things Japanese, including art though the Japanese themselves do not like to admit it, is Chinese in origin.

The clever and uniquely Japanese thing to do is to borrow heavily from other cultures, re-interpret it and then make it their own, much like the ancient Romans did with the Greek culture they so admired.

The preference for asymmetry is a long tradition in Japan and was encouraged by both Taoist and Zen teachings, which intellectualized it as an element, now characteristic of, Japanese decorative aesthetics.

In the famous publication the Book of Tea Kakuzookakura called his countries art ‘the abode of the unsymmetrical and here we encounter impertinent fashion the contrast between the western and Asian approach to design’.

He pointed out how the Taoist-Zen conception of perfection differed from that of the west. It is important to take this on board in any serious attempt to understand Japanese art forms. The dynamic nature of Taoist and Zen Buddhist philosophies, laid more stress upon the process through which perfection was sought rather than upon perfection itself. Design became an outward manifestation of a profoundly held and experienced sense of spirituality. The outward was the vehicle for the inward. Much the same as the Christian definition of sacrament. True beauty can only be revealed by those who complete the incomplete.

Kamisaka Sekka imbued Japanese design with his flair for modernity. Today they offer many possibilities for experiencing pleasure with their timeless, international appeal.

To provide an understanding of his development, the exhibition also features works by Rinpa masters of the 1600s to 1800s, such as Ogata Körin who gave the movement its name. And to demonstrate the enduring allure of Rinpa and Sekka, there is a range of works by contemporary Japanese artists as well as Sydney-based fashion designer Akira Isogawa.

Kamisaka Sekka: dawn of modern Japanese design

An Exhibition in Two Parts

On View
22 Jun – 22 Jul 2012
25 Jul – 26 Aug 2012
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Art Gallery Road, The Domain, Sydney

$10.00, $8.00 concession

Made in Japan: Prints, Screens and Kimino

Together with the Asian Arts Society the Art Gallery presents a day of talks by specialists.

Information, Costs & Bookings

Website www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au

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