Inspiration – Kamisaka Sekka

Kamisaka Sekka Momoyagusa

In my continued interest in painters of Rinpa and the late Edo era of Japan, I am always finding new-to-me painters and artists. There are plenty of good ones. Something about the painting of this era just keeps striking me as really impactful and memorable.

In the past few months I have again come across one of these artists who has hit all the right notes for me. That artist is Kamisaka Sekka. Just look at some of these prints of his.

Painting by Kamisaka Sekka

What always grips me most about the Rinpa painters is just how modern their work feels. The clear graphic lines, the intense colors and the abstracted high-contrast environments. These things seem to talk about a world around us that is more than a world around us. They seem to show the world we inhabit as a place that is more than simply what we may experience in the everyday, and it is in fact filled with a mystical or super-natural energy and substance.

This idea appeals to me quite a bit. That the world we inhabit is more than how we contend with and categorize it in our daily work and life. Somehow beyond the veil that we impose on ourselves in order to just get up and to work each day, there is a kind of shining energy, an underlying truth to nature that while not actually super-natural is more than what we allow ourselves to experience.

This is what great painting can say about the world, and this is what a lot of the Rinpa painters seem to show to me. And yet there are so many visions of how this world can be.

And that leads me to Kamisaka Sekka. Born at the tail end of the Edo era, Kamisaka is often referred to as one of the last Rinpa painters, but that certainly seems like an underwhelming shorthand for the breadth and depth of his work. I actually think his work appears even more modern and individual than many of the other Rinpa painters.

Kamisaka Sekka Mountains

Kamisaka trained for a time in Glasgow, and was heavily influenced by the ideas and practices of Art Nouveau. His work remains however, very Japanese in both subject matter, and point of view. This blending of east and west, culture and culture (in this case 2 that really fascinate me in their own right) is immediately of interest to me. Things simply magical start to happen when these mixes start – inter-cultural cauldron’s bubbling.

The result is wildly modern and impressive. Just look at some of these prints from the百々世草  Momoyagusa, or World of Things, his most well-known collection of prints.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time reading about Rinpa and other artists of Edo, but for whatever reason Kamisaka’s name wasn’t quick to come to the surface. This is fine though now that I’ve found his work, like an uncovered gem, or a recovered treasure. I’m deep into it now.

Painting by Kamisaka Sekka