Art Review: Sesson - Super Eccentric of Japan's Warring States Period
"The last great Muromachi ink painter," "highly original,"
"progressive thinker," "super eccentric"everyone
seems to agree that Sesson Shukei was an innovative if not maverick ink-flinger.
This traveling retrospective shows off his unique and far-ranging style,
from misty landscapes to giant fish and flying Chinese sages.
In terms of art, Sesson claimed to be the spiritual successor of Japan's
most famous sumi-e painter Sesshuthough the two never actually meteven
adding the same kanji for snow (setsu) to his name. He also brushed up
on the work of Chinese landscape painters Yu-chien and Mu-chi in Kanagawa
area collections. But ultimately Sesson espoused artistic individuality.
"One should study the paintings of the old masters, but never as
more than a point of reference," Sesson wrote in his short treatise,
"Setsumonteishi" (Instructions to Disciples). Believing that
"one's own paintings must be done with one's own skills and techniques,"
Sesson adapted the splashed ink and washes of his predecessors, applying
them in novel ways. For example, he employed darker ink tones to create
more extreme contrasts. And he exaggerated perspective, allowing rooftops
to be seen from above and below simultaneously and people to bend their
arms and necks at impossible angles.
The Chinese immortals paintings exemplify some of Sesson's special qualities.
The Taoist Immortal Lu Dongbin subdues a dragon by standing on its head
as wind billows his robes upward in thick black arcs. Two versions of
Liezi Riding the Wind picture the sage in a typical alien abduction scenario,
rising miraculously through the air. In Xiama and Tieguai, a pair of hanging
scrolls, one hermit blows a strong breath, propelling a miniature version
of himself, his soul apparently, through the air. In the accompanying
scroll, the other hermit, a hunchback, dances with a three-legged iguana.
Shoto Museum of Art
Photo credit: courtesy Shoto Museum of Art
Visit JapanToday the leading online source of Japan news!