“Momoyogusa”. A World of Things : Flowers of a Hundred Generations by Kamisaka Sekka. In 1901, the son of a Samurai family was Japan’s “chosen one” to reframe Japanese art for the Western eye.
Kamisaka Sekka was a Kyoto artist born into a Samurai family. He was the last, and greatest proponent of the traditional Rinpa style and was responsible for modernising and re-popularising the old school craft. Rinpa design focussed on design values and historical or natural motifs rather than detailed illustration of contemporary life. In Momoyogusa (A World of Things), Sekka fused these traditional Rinpa patterns with his knowledge of Art Nouveau to craft 60 unique woodcut prints. The series is now considered one of the greatest masterpieces of 20th-century Japanese design.
A World of Things came about by design. Sekka was chosen. At the turn of the 20th century, traditional Japanese styles were becoming unfashionable. Japan sought to fix this by selecting traditional artists with a view to infusing their art with Western modernism. Kamisaka Sekka was one of the artists they selected. In 1901, the Japanese government sent Sekka to Glasgow where he experienced the wild enthusiasm there for all things Japanese (Japonism) and was heavily influenced by Art Nouveau. He quickly worked out which facets of Japanese art would be most attractive to Western eyes. Returning to Japan, he taught in Kyoto and experimented with mixing Western styles into his otherwise traditional Japanese-style work.
He kept to what he knew intimately – traditional Japanese subject matter and and some elements of Rimpa painting. He used huge swathes of bright colour in his new images which seemed on the verge of being minimal patterns rather than actual pictures of a subject.
The results and their overall calming effect staggered people, both in Japan and in the West. Sekka’s new imagery took Japanese art to new levels of minimalism whilst their colours and patterns seemed almost to “pop”, giving the woodcuts an almost three-dimensional quality.
About 8 years after returning from Glasgow, Sekka produced Momoyogusa (A World of Things) in 1909. A unique East-West fusion of traditional Japanese Rimpa style with something else. Something only Sekka could do.
Included here are a few images from Sekka’s Chigusa: A Thousand Grasses, Kamisaka Sekka (1900). Evidence that Sekka was already travelling his unique minimal Rimpa style road, even before he travelled to Europe.
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