Japanese Design: Rinpa Resonates and Sekka Seduces

LKG_JapaneseArt_kamisakkaSekka_640The Art Gallery of NSW led the way last year (June-August 2012) in an international celebration of Japanese design with a visually striking and intellectually stimulating exhibition and series of lectures of the Rinpa-inspired works of Kamisaka Sekka (1866-1942) from the Hosomi Museum in Kyoto.

Under the curatorial leadership of Dr Khanh Trinh, the exhibition took a broad view of Rinpa from its origins in the 17th century, to its revival with Sekka and others in the 19th century and its continuing influence on artists and designers of the 20th and 21st centuries. The exhibition included the works of Sydney-based fashion designer Akira Isogawa, leading lacquer master Unryuan Kitamura Tatsuo and contemporary artist Ai Yamaguchi and was augmented by loans from the Australian collections of Pauline Gandel and Darryl and Katherine Hodgkinson. From this exhibition, the stunning Rinpa-inspired ‘Harvest Moon’ suzuribako (inkstone box) by Unryuan, internationally represented by Lesley Kehoe Galleries, is currently on loan to the NGV from the Pauline Gandel Collection of Japanese Lacquer and can be viewed in the new Japanese gallery for another few weeks. This is a must!

Unryuan’s works will feature in our New York Asia Week exhibition, a two-man show with screen artist Maio Motoko. Maio’s bold and dynamic screens continue the contemporary world’s engagement with Rinpa. ‘Ode to Rinpa’, a contemporary abstraction of the traditional Rinpa themes of Pine and Bridge, was created in response to comments on the influence of Rinpa on Maio’s work, an hitherto unconscious influence in her work.

The Rinpa theme, including works by Sekka, was taken up by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York September 2012 – January 2013 under their new curator Dr John Carpenter, formerly of SOAS University of London.  In line with the growing worldwide trend to embrace contemporary works of art, Carpenter included a number of modern works in an extensive exhibition of traditional Rinpa works. Somewhat provocatively placed in the exhibition spaces, on my visit these works were creating a huge amount of public interest, notably the ethereal crystal adorned deer by Kohei Nawa.  A similar work by the same artist created an equal amount of public interest at the 6th Asian Pacific Triennale of 2010.

Japan Society New York continued this engagement with Rinpa with an exhibition dedicated to the paintings and screens of Sakai Hoitsu (1761-1828) September 2012- January 2013  This is the first retrospective of Sakai Hoitsu’s work in the US and includes works from the Seikado Bunko Art Museum which have never previously been lent to the US. ‘Hōitsu came in the ‘autumn’ of the Rinpa movement, which began in the early 1600s as a revival of the classical courtly tradition and continued for three hundred years, with four peaks of activity approximately a century apart.’ (Japan Society) Hoitsu may be credited with the 19th century revival of Rinpa with his publications of Ogata Korin’s (1658-1716) sketchbooks thus creating a reinvigoration, albeit with a modern 19th century flavour, of this uniquely Japanese artistic tradition.

The exhibition is curated by Professor Matthew McKelway, co-author also of the exhibition catalogue, said by outgoing Director of Japan Society Joe Earle to be ‘For years to come…the authoritative account of Hōitsu’s life, art, and influence…’.

The Sakai Hoitsu Catalogue can be purchased here.


Ode to Rinpa by Maio Motoko. Pair of 6 fold screens (enquiries sales@kehoe.com.au)
Photography by Bronek Kozka, Lesley Kehoe Galleries


‘Harvest Moon’ suzuribako (inkstone box) by Unryuan Kitamura Tatsuo
Photography by Bronek Kozka, Lesley Kehoe Galleries

Deer by Nawa Kohei
Image courtesy of the artist