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Junichiro Sekino - 1914-1988

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Junichiro Sekino - 1914-1988

Junichiro Sekino - 1914-1988

Junichiro Sekino is one of the giants of Japanese printmaking in the twentieth century and a leading promoter of Sosaku Hanga - an important Japanese art movement.

Traditional and Western Art Training

Junichiro Sekino was born in Aomori prefecture as the son of a merchant of agricultural products.

The young Junichiro grew up in Aomori City together with Shiko Munakata. Munakata, who should late become the "Japanese Picasso", might have been the one who had inflamed the enthusiasm of the young Sekino for drawing and painting.

From an early age on Sekino studied printmaking and oil painting. In 1936 he even won a prize at Bunten for an etching. Bunten was part of the official government controlled art scene with juries who decided on the admission of artworks. Being accepted to these official exhibitions, was quite some success. And winning a prize was an even more remarkable achievement by the young artist.

In 1939 Sekino moved to Tokyo. He met and studied under Koshiro Onchi, the great mentor of the sosaku hanga art movement.

During his art training Sekino had learned both, the Japanese woodblock method and Western techniques like etching. Although he had attended art training, Sekino was basically self-taught. His great paragons were the old Japanese and European masters - Sharaku, Hiroshige and Toulouse Lautrec, Rembrandt and especially Albrecht Dürer.

Slide Show - Junichiro Sekino

Noce slide show of Junichiro Sekino art prints. Credit and thanks to Analitrea for sharing this with us.

Wartime Years

The years before and during World War II had been an extremely bad time for Japanese artists - especially for printmakers, whose success and livelihood has often depended on art exports to Western countries with the United States of America as the major foreign market for Japanese prints.

Sekino worked during the war years in an ammunition factory. Even the most basic resources for printmaking like paper or ink were rationed. Art production had come to a virtual standstill for Japanese artists between 1940 and 1945.

Success after the War

After 1945 Junichiro slowly began to make his way to international fame. In the late 1940s he made a living with book illustrations.

The artist's breakthrough came in the 1950s. In 1953 he had his first one-man show in Tokyo (Yoseido Gallery?). His print works were shown at international exhibitions outside Japan like the Print Biennales in Lugano, Switzerland or Ljubljana.

International museums like the MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) in New York, The Boston Museum of Fine Arts or the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris began to collect his prints.

Sekino Junichiro in the U.S.A.

With an official invitation by the Rockefeller Foundation and the American Japan Society Sekino came to the United States in 1958 for the first time. From then on follows a long list of international exhibitions, prizes and frequent travels in Northern and Southern America and in Europe.

The journey of 1958 was not his last trip to the United States. In 1963 Sekino taught printmaking at Oregon State University. After his return to Japan he taught at Kobe University in 1965.

Junichiro Sekino and his Art Prints

Sekino covers an incredible range of techniques and styles. Among his prints one can find everything from realistic and figurative to abstract compositions, from black and white, from subdued colors to even brilliant and expressive, colorful designs.

Sekino's subjects show the same wide range as his different styles do. The artist's success was at least to a part a result of a superior mastership of the technical process of printmaking. In this respect Junichiro Sekino surpassed most of his colleagues by miles. Oliver Statler characterized the artist in his 1956 publication "Modern Japanese Prints: An Art Reborn" poignantly - comparing him with Kyoshi Saito:

"There is a good deal more of the artisan in Sekino, and while Saito deplores the drudgery of print-making, Sekino likes it."

I want to add another citation from Oliver Statler's portrayal of Sekino. It is like a wrap up of the artist's essentials:

"As print follows print his growing success reveals an intuitive artist, increasingly the master of wood and chisel and baren, but still warm, human and close to the heart."

It is a certain tragedy of many of the sosaku hanga artists that their dogma of having to do everything themselves, including the block carving and the printing, often did not match with their technical skills. The results were too often great and creative designs, but poorly transformed into prints. On the other hand, these works look sometimes quite charming because of their technical clumsiness and challenges.

Sekino used traditional Japanese and Western printmaking methods - woodblock (Japanese), lithograph and etching (Western). Sometimes he took advantage of mixed techniques of overprinting.

Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido

From 1959/60 on, Sekino began to publish the print series of the "Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido". With these prints the artist tried to revitalize the famous Hiroshige scenes from a today's perspective. This series may be considered as his major work. It was completed in 1974. Sekino made the designs and the carving himself for "Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido". But he entrusted the printing to three skilled artisans - Kobayashi Sokichi, Yoneda Minoru and Iwase Koichi. The latter had been declared a "Living National Treasure" by the Japanese government - the highest honor possible for artists and artisans.

It would be beyond the scope of this little article to characterize the whole Tokaido series on this page. Robert McClain wrote a great catalog of the "Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido", published in 1978 by Visual Arts Resources, Museum of Art, University of Oregon (see literature reference below). This and another catalog about "36 Portraits" has some valuable biographical information on Sekino Junichiro.

Another major theme of Sekino's works on paper are portraits. He portrayed many of the great artists, poets and actors of the time. Best known for print collectors are probably the images of Koshiro Onchi and Shiko Munakata. Other strong subjects of the artist are from the world of kabuki and bunraku theater, sumo wrestling and the depiction of maiko girls (young apprentice geishas from Kyoto). Also images showing his children, sometimes with their pets, are frequent.

For the print series of the "Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido" and his outstanding merits in Japanese arts, he received the Ministry of Education Award in 1975. Several more honors followed until 1988, the year of his death.

Literature sources used for this Junichiro Sekino biography

Dieter WanczuraAuthor: Dieter Wanczura