Kashima :
Thank you for coming and sparing your time in the midst of your work. To begin with, the exhibition of Hasegawa Tohaku has begun from yesterday at Tokyo National Museum. I will like to first ask about Shourin-zu (paintings of Pine trees). In one of your books you have written that you think the folding screen should develop in succession horizontally, and that the piece itself could be just a rough design.
Yamashita :
Yes, indeed. Carefully observing the piece yesterday again, that opinion has strengthened.
Rough fibers are blended in the paper, as expected, it is reliable to think this is a rough design. Also, there are a few pine leaves drawn on the left edge that indicates a possible extend.
In any case, the sense of the person that prepared it in the folding screen is amazing. The pressed seal is not the seal of Tohaku. Clearly it has been pressed afterwards which again indicates the possibility of being a rough design. Still the piece itself is unmistakably one of Tohaku's and is outstanding.
A painting with almost the same design is displayed in this exhibition.
Kashima :
Oh, there is such a piece?
Yamashita :
It appeared more than 10 years ago, an extremely similar piece which has been introduced in "KOKKA", though by close observation you can see that it is not painted by Tohaku. Someone from the Hasegawa school must have copied it directly.
Kashima :
Shourin-zu has many lines looking like small mountains. Are those indeed describing distant mountains?
Yamashita :
Indeed they are distant mountains. It is the scenery of Tohaku's hometown Noto with snow. Not explaining the scenery but painting it in that simply way is amazing. Nevertheless, I cannot think of another painting that receives highest praises from everyone. The painting fulfills all of the keywords of Japanese art; blank space, refined simplicity, and subtle grace.
However, there is one more side in Japanese Art which includes many pieces that are decorative and outpours energy.
Kashima :
There are also pieces of Tohaku using many colors.
Yamashita :
Yes of course there is, and also of many other painters. There is an Ito Jakuchu's exhibition catalogue here, however, Jakuchu was not known to the public until about 10 years ago. It was symbolic that the exhibition that published this catalogue held in 2000 in commemoration of his passing away 200 years before. I can say that, from hence a many-sided revision of Japanese art advanced.
Kashima :
The richly colored famous "Flowers and trees wildlife figure screen" illustrated in this catalogue is amazing. It is as if it is made in tiles.
Yamashita :
Ah, yes, the piece of Mr. Price. Mr. Price actually duplicated this folding screen in his bathroom with tile and is enjoying it. I too entered and saw for myself.
Kashima :
Oh, you bathed in his bath, too?
Yamashita :
Yes, I did. Together, as if we were father and son, hahaha.
I have been let to see the folding screen many times too, and regarding this, there is a discussion going that some people claim this might not be one of Jakuchu's pieces. However, in my opinion I think that the fact that this folding screen exists and has become famous, has been exhibited, people have enjoyed it and have been impressed by it is important, and I might be extreme in putting it this way but, identifying the painter is not that what matters. It is important to have a firm relationship between the painting and people looking at it, and to be able to appreciate a good painting whoever the painter is.
In my opinion, I cannot care much for people that first look at the signature and seal in a painting...
Kashima :
There are those among merchants too. I personally do not like them either, ones who immediately compare seals.
Yamashita :
Yes, I know! There are many people among researchers too, that only look at the seals. Hahaha
Kashima :
By the way, I have always thought this folding screen is amazing. From where do you think this was inspired?
Yamashita :
Well, by referring to the theme, the elephant being in the center clearly shows Buddhist implication. I think Jakuchu may have imagined India. An unseen India this is, isn't it. And, there are 86 thousand squares in this painting. Filling each square with colors, this is as if writing Buddhist scriptures in measures. To Jakuchu I think this might have been identical to transcribing the scriptures.
Jakuchu believing strongly in Buddhism, when I explained to Mr.Price that this painting holds Buddhism meaning to him, at first he was stupefied. It seems that he never imagined such a thing possible, his just replied "No". hahaha
However, these days he has come to accept the concept.
Kashima :
Oh, is that so. Haha
His "Stone Lantern" sliding screens painted in ink is also famous. This is drawn by applying light and dark ink dots in patterns, which I assume the elephant screens with the coloring of each square compared to this must have been much more enormous work and should have taken years to complete.
Yamashita :
I do think it must have taken immense amount of time. The "Paintings of Animals and Plants" even took about 10 years.
It might be that Jakuchu is a person who finds meaning in the act itself; of repeating the same thing, applying and layering dots with a beat, of ink or colors on top of each other.
In any case, Jakucho is now the most popular painter in Japanese art. The "Elephant and Whale" screens acquired by MIHO Museum have recently come out.
Kashima :
Today, we would like to show you Rosetsu's diptych "Dragon and Tiger", which is hanged here. What do you think about it?
Yamashita :
This is an excellent piece! One of his early works. Somewhat small though sharp. It shows the strong points of Rosetsu.
Kashima :
Thank you so much. Just earlier I was talking with Ms. Ishigaki (Mr.Yamashita's student and one of our present staffs) that the face of the tiger is different.
Yamashita :
No no, there is this facial type too.
Kashima :
Yes, we noticed looking through catalogues.
Yamashita :
This diptych of dragon and tiger faithfully follows Okyo's style, though the sense to depict striped pattern of a tiger stands out from Okyo. There is a different sharpness from Okyo, you see. Nevertheless, I have always thought that the reason Rosetsu became famous was because of Okyo, his outstanding teacher.
Kashima :
So does that mean he could not surpass Okyo?
Yamashita :
No, it is not about surpassing or not. The personal magnanimousness of Okyo is what reared Rosetsu. That is to say, Rosetsu's existence has been owned to the capacity of Okyo. Just the other day, I have been to Muryoji in Wakayama to see the tiger of the cover of that Rosetsu exhibition catalogue. It was such a captivating piece.
Kashima :
Did Rosetsu pass away in Kishu?
Yamashita :
No, in Osaka. At the age of about 45.
By the way, this is not well known, however, that there is a man called Kano Kazunobu of the last days of Tokugawa shogunate and he also passed away in his forties.
I am supervising a large exhibition on him next March that will be held at Edo Tokyo Museum. 100 scrolls of "The lives and deeds of the Buddha's 500 disciples" from Zoujouji will be lined in one hall. It will be a site to behold. There are not many of his work left except those series as he seemed to have devoted his life into it. In fact, after drawing the 96th scroll among the 100 scrolls, he passed away. His wife and pupils finished the remaining four scrolls. I have been advertising this Kano Kazuobu exhibition at every chance, in order to make him known to the world. Please do go and look at his works by all means.
Kashima :
Yes, I will be looking forward to. We appreciate that interest toward Japanese art has been spreading among younger people thanks to exhibitions such as Kano Kazunobu's "The lives and deeds of the Buddha's 500 disciples" being held and to your advertising. People go to see exhibitions, however, they are reluctant to purchase art works since alcoves have started disappearing from houses. I have been trying to explain that even without alcoves they can enjoy and appreciate a painting with a little ingenuity in a different way.
Yamashita :
Well, it might not happen right away. However, I think that soon the time will come when the young generation will start purchasing genuinely fine pieces of Japanese art. Not a painting framed with bad taste but a scroll mounted very nicely. They will come to realize its true value.
Kashima :
Hmmm, do you mean creative mounting?
Yamashita :
Creative mounting... . I do not like it. (Laughs)
No, not those... I hope that mounting should get the basics in place, then have something to make you feel "This is it!".
Kashima :
By the way, you also have been turning your attention toward young artists' creations, and have been supporting them.
Yamashita :
Yes. I think that the reason, even if it is only a small part of it, that I can continue to take part in art, my job is because of young people who continue to create beauty. I purchase their pieces in hopes they will be recognized and succeed soon, as if donating blood. Rarely, there are pieces that you see and instantly think "I found the one!", but it is unfortunate that they do not come from the area of Japanese painting.
One reason for the inactivity in Japanese paintings lies in the use of drawing material. It is essential to get used to the brushes from the time one becomes aware of the world around them. If not, one cannot attain lines such as Okyo. If one enters an Art University at 18 and only then starts studying Japanese paintings, one does not know the basics in even how to hold a brush. For example, no one who starts baseball after entering college can become a professional. I think you can say the same thing about Japanese paintings too.
Kashima :
I see. So the primary problem is that the brush is not being used as a writing implement anymore?
Yamashita :
Exactly. That is why I think, if there is potential in Japanese art, promising creators will emerge from the calligraphy area. I'm half sure that creators who have basic knowledge of brushes will enter the painting world. I also sometimes joke saying that two extremely talented painters should get married and teach their children how to paint only using brushes, not letting them get hold of a pencil. (Laughs) As in expressing how hard it is to accomplish.
In my opinion, the last painter who had such sense of brushes was Kaburagi Kiyokata. I think his strokes were not in the least inferior to those of the painters from Edo era. And in Kiyokata's case, he was able to paint the Edo atmosphere so smoothly by just picking memories out from his childhood.
Kashima :
Once the culture of using brushes comes to an end, it is going to be difficult to get it back, won't it?
Yamashita :
Yes, that is what a culture is. I have been saying at every opportunity that in this aspect of technique, Japanese art is in a critical state.
The only thing I am having my child learn is calligraphy. Every summer since entering elementary school my child has been writing the Heart Sutra under the teacher's guidance.
Kashima :
Really? That is impressive.
Yamashita :
The Heart Sutra written in the first and second grade are awkward but in a way quite interesting.
Kashima :
Children's writing must be that way because they don't have any pretensions or a wicked heart.
How outstanding expressions made without one feeling the need to do something well are.
Yamashita :
Only children can write with such free feeling. Kumagai Morikazu was one exception, being able to write that way even in his old age.
Kashima :
By the way, there is one thing I wished to ask. I am searching for a piece of Sesson, which was requested by a customer. Would it be possible to acquire his piece?
Yamashita :
Obtaining a Sesshu piece would be difficult, though it still should be possible to acquire a Sesson piece. Originally, my specialty was in Muromachi-Suiboku-ga (ink landscape paintings in the Muromachi Period), and I am attached to Sesson. In 2002, the Sesson exhibition I planned was held at the Shoto Museum in Shibuya. At that time, I gathered many first-grade pieces from abroad too: and for a painter from the Muromachi Period, Sesson has created numerous pieces. Although it is relatively rare to get to see one of Sesson's finest pieces, at the exhibition eight years ago, a newly introduced landscape folding screen of his was displayed. Although its condition was not good, it was entered in the Koriyama City Museum of Arts collection.
One of the reasons that Sesson's pieces still remain is that he lived in the countryside. It is very unlikely that pieces burned during the disturbances of war there.
Kashima :
Ahh, I see.
Yamashita :
Just thinking about it, the fact that a 16th century painter's painting still exists is quite a rare thing.
Kashima :
Entering from Muromachi-Suiboku-ga, you have been researching Japanese Art, though in one of your books I read that originally you wished to become a musician.
Kashima :
To begin with Muromachi ink painting you have been researching Japanese art but according to one of your books I read, you wished to become a musician originally.
Yamashita :
Yes, that is correct. During my school days I was devoted to music wishing to become a koto performer, so I didn't study seriously as my mind was always off somewhere else. However, full-time employment wouldn't allow me to continue my music, so I reluctantly decided to enter graduate school. (Laugh)
Kashima :
Was that so?
Yamashita :
Having said that, I gradually realized that it is exceedingly difficult to make a living by music and started to think that my only choice for life would become an art historian. I strengthened my resolve to study in my late 20s, and it was in my late 30s that art history became truly exciting to me when media related jobs increased rapidly,... If anything, I am cut out for journalistic jobs rather than plodding research.
Kashima :
I think it is very important that you are making the basic points of art known to the public.
Yamashita :
Well, I feel like as if I am playing the public relations manager of Japanese art.
I think in the past 10 years the situation of Japanese art has been changing a lot. Holding a full-scale exhibition nowadays, quite a lot of people would come to visit. The exhibition on Hasewaga Tohaku was a case as such and the total number of visitors to the Zeshin exhibition surprised the organizer.
The truly talented artists, even though they have not been publicized greatly in the art books, will definitely emerge into the world as ever.
Kashima :
Kawanabe Kyosai is highly appreciated today but not at all before.
Yamashita :
The exhibition held at Kyoto National Museum two years ago was the first grand exhibition on Kyosai. The curator was worried whether many visitors would come since he was not well known in Kyoto. However, it ended up with great success having attracted a large number of people by word of mouth.
Kashima :
Kyosai produced many works full of variety. As he called himself "Seisei Kyosai" he must have drank a lot.
Yamashita :
Indeed. This is the catalogue of the Kyosai exhibition (turning the page), and the theater curtain shown here was finished in a few hours as if he has been performing in a show. He drank a lot just before painting this piece, and yes, here you see Kyosai's foot prints.
Ishigaki :
Really! He stepped on the painting?!
Yamashita :
I thought there were three foot prints in it. You see how small those foot prints are. He must have been rather small.
Kashima :
Nevertheless, he drew dynamic paintings as such.
Yamashita :
Well, not a little alcohol helped him, too. In fact, he basically died of excessive drinking. (Laugh) By the way, this Watanabe Seitei's hanging scroll is nice. I also have a hanging scroll of Seitei depicting an egret and I like it very much.
Kashima :
Seitei often painted egrets.
Yamashita :
Yes, he did. I believe that Seitei is one of the artists who are not popular despite their real ability and talent, therefore, I bought it driven by righteous indignation at underestimation of his works and too cheap price! (Laughs)
Kashima :
Yes, Seitei is still underestimated in general.
Yamashita :
I am sure that he will be appreciated properly in near future. A proper exhibition on him might do the trick. Quite a number of his works went aboard especially in America.
Ishigaki :
Indeed. Seitei is very popular among customers from abroad. Even if they do not know who Seitei is, they like his pieces upon sight.
Yamashita :
I know. He adopted oil painting expressions to his works. Three-dimensional effect from oil painting technique should appeal to Westerners, I think. Certainly Seitei is one of the painters who should be more researched and valued properly.
Ishigaki :
Is there anyone researching into Seitei?
Yamashita :
Mr Noji of Nerima Art Museum is in the process of publishing the results of his research through the Museum's newsletter. However, at the moment there is no comprehensive catalogue on Seitei yet.
If an enthusiastic curator would organize a well-prepared exhibition and publish a proper catalogue, I assume lots of useful information will come in response. If I were a curator, I would definitely wish to hold an "exhibition on Watanabe Seitei".
Kashima :
Thank you so much for your time today. It was a great fun to listen to your idea and stories.

*This article was published in the catalogue of BISAI 7 in spring 2010 & BISAI 8 in autumn 2010.

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Kashima Morio

  • Kasima Arts Co., Ltd.
  • Kashima Morio
  • Founded Kasima Arts Co., Ltd for an art dealing company in 1988. Also established a secondhand book store. As a mail-order business, he has published a catalogue “Ochiho”.

Yamashita Yuji

  • Yamashita Yuji
  • Born in 1958, Hiroshima. Graduated from The University of Tokyo, master course in Japanese Arts.
    Professor of Meiji Gakuin University. An art historian.

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