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Introduction

Kamisaka Sekka Flowers of the 12 months 1920–25, one leaf from a set of 12 album leaves, ink and colour on silk, 24.7 × 31.7 cm each, Hosomi Museum, Kyoto

Kamisaka Sekka: dawn of modern Japanese design explores the dynamic interrelationship between traditional and contemporary Japanese art in a display of 105 works dating from the early 1600s to the present day.

The exhibition focuses on the art and practice of the prominent Japanese artist, designer and teacher in the first half of the 20th century – Kamisaka Sekka (1866–1942).

Sekka’s source of inspiration was the Rinpa tradition, which originated in Kyoto in the early 1600s. Over the centuries, Rinpa evolved as a significant school of art and design, and a number of works in the exhibition trace this rich history.

In the late 1800s, the abstract, decorative qualities of Rinpa influenced European craft movements such as art nouveau and British Arts and Crafts.

Kamisaka Sekka too looked to Rinpa aesthetics and production modes in his efforts to reinvigorate Japanese craft design at this time. This is evident in the vibrant colours and graphic clarity of his work. His insight into Rinpa secured his legacy as a figure who bridged the traditional and the modern.

Since Sekka’s time, Rinpa has continued to inspire Japanese painters, craft artists and fashion designers, who reference its styles and motifs to underscore their own cultural identity in the increasingly globalised and critical world of contemporary art.