“Uemura Shōen and Quintessential Bijinga, Paintings of Beautiful Women” at the Yamatane Museum of Art (29 August-22 October 2017)

“Uemura Shōen and Quintessential Bijinga, Paintings of Beautiful Women” at the Yamatane Museum of Art (29 August-22 October 2017)

Interview with Alice Gordenker by Eve Loh Kazuhara 

With special thanks to Minako Takahashi (Head Curator) and Yurie Noda (Press and Public Relations) of Yamatane Museum of Art

Uemura Shōen (1875–1949) was an enduring nihonga painter who had a successful career spanning the Meiji, Taishō and early Shōwa years. Specialising in a genre known as bijinga (paintings of beautiful women), Shōen wanted to portray women not only dressed in their finest, but to express beauty from the inside out, capturing grace and resilience of women.

From 29 August through to 22 October 2017, the Yamatane Museum of Art is showcasing 18 of Shōen’s paintings alongside 70 additional works by other famous artists.

In this interview, I speak to Tokyo-based journalist and translator Alice Gordenker, who on Sept. 22 will give a guided tour in English of the museum’s current exhibition, “Uemura Shōen and the Quintessential Bijinga, Paintings of Beautiful Women.”

Continue reading


Looking back at Hu Mingzhe’s Mote exhibition at the National Art Museum of China, Beijing, May 2011.

I was first introduced to Hu Mingzhe’s work through a young student of hers who first introduced me to traditional heavy rock color painting- aka Nihonga in Chicago in 2001. At that time, her work depicted the human figure (you can see these in the video as well). Hu Mingzhe’s newer works in the Mote exhibition, which opened in May 2011 at the National Art Museum of China, Beijing, focus on the relationship between human beings and the universe, feeling the greatness of nature and the insignificance of human beings. The word mote stems from Buddhism, which means that the constituent part of everything in the universe is made of tiny particles, and its immensity is beyond limitation, as is its smallness.

Hu Mingzhe is a professor at the Central Academy of Fine Arts (Beijing) and a former visiting scholar at Tama University and Tokyo University of Fine Arts, Japan.

Innocent World. Tomoyuki Kambe Solo Exhibition in Singapore 神戸智行個展

“Through the observation of the small things around us. I believe that we find the form of the big world.” – Tomoyuki Kambe

星に願いを Wish Upon the Star 2010

[星に願いをWish Upon the Star, 2010]

Innocent World  is an exhibition of Japanese-style paintings by emerging artist, Tomoyuki Kambe 神戸智行. Japanese-style painting, otherwise known as Nihonga, originated in the late 19th century (Meiji period) and took inspiration from the rich heritage of traditional Japanese art. Considered a modern art movement, Nihonga evolved with the times reflecting contemporary issues and themes. While some artists may continue to depict conventional Japanese themes and motifs, most contemporary artists explore a range of subjects relevant to their context.

The single most identifiable characteristic of Nihonga is the medium. Artists who paint in the style of Nihonga use time-honoured materials and a  select combination of mineral and synthetic pigments. Much training is spent understanding how pigments work, how to grind them precisely down to the exact milimetre to achieve the right hue and how to prepare them with nikawa (animal glue) so that the pigments adhere to the paper; all these not before priming the paper in layers. Then the artists have to understand the way of the brush and how to manipulate all of these to create a final work of art. Depending on the effect they want to achieve, gold and silver foil is also used for a decorative touch.

Nihonga paintings have a distinctive appearance- they refract light due to the sized particles found in the pigments. Just like how oil paintings carry that glossy sheen, the colours in Nihonga appear to shimmer ever-so subtly by bouncing light off the surfaces of the paintings.  This delicate visual acuity has to be experienced in the flesh as photographs in catalogues can never reproduce such sensation. Another dynamic feature of Nihonga is how paintings change in appearance when seen in different light according to the times of the day.

Kambe’s solo exhibition showcases around 15 works- all of which depict nature and the beautiful forms which can be found within. In some of the paintings, there are little things waiting to be discovered if you find time to do so. And as soon as you spot a lizard or a lady-bird hiding among the leaves, you start to notice the presence of others in the works and you want to look for more. The artist engages us in this act of looking and searching and brings us back, even if for a brief moment, to an innocent world where once as children, we indulged in the very same activity of discovering life in nature.

Kambe acknowledges that everything coexists in relationships to one another, all coming together to give form and meaning in the world. While each living thing is uniquely original, it is the sum of these that make up the world. When he paints these small elements of nature, he illustrates their connections and brings to our attention the affinity of relationships in our societies.

This is Kambe’s first solo exhibition outside of Japan and also Singapore’s first exhibition of Nihonga paintings. The exhibition also includes a small display of Nihonga raw materials which are largely unavailable in Singapore. The works in the exhibition include new paintings displayed in various formats as well as a series of screens from the collection of Dazaifu Tenmangu shrine in Fukuoka.

Despite international audiences being no stranger to modern and contemporary Japanese art, Nihonga remains one of the least known artforms outside of Japan. The exhibition and education initiatives by the Japan Creative Centre present a wonderful introduction to the beautiful world of Japanese-style paintings.

Innocent World runs from July 20 – August 3o at the Japan Creative Centre.

About Tomoyuki Kambe 神戸智行

Born 1975, Gifu Prefecture, Japan. Graduated from Japanese painting (Nihonga) course at Tama Art University. Exhibited in China, Korea, the United States. Collected by the Sato Museum of Art and the Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture.

Tomoyuki Kambe website

[ photo permission granted by the artist]

Art + Living: Takashimaya. The Department Store as a Culture Setter (Exhibition Info)

Art + Living: Takashimaya The Department Store as a Culture Setter 

presented by the Setagaya Museum of Art and Takashimaya

In the Meiji period, artists were presented with an alternative site to exhibit their work- the department store.

Artists who were engaged by department stores now had access to additional exhibition opportunites and new ways to promote themselves. Working with these commercial ventures also introduced new dimensions to their practices as they experimented with both different formats and media for the production of commercial goods.

This new way of engagement was a radical depature from the exclusive patronage relationships seen for instance, during the Edo period. The artists’ designs were now far-reaching to a wider and even international audience made possible by the department stores.

Japanese textiles based on the collaborations of artists and textile designers were being showcased in international expositions. Other collaborations were evident in advertising, fashion and design.

Focusing on the role of the department store as a cultural institution, Art + Living: Takashimaya. The Department Store as a Culture Setter presents works of art from the collection of the Takashimaya Historical Museum and explores the cultural history of this Japanese department store in such fields as design, architecture, advertisement, and fashion.

Of particular interest to us here will be the nihonga works on display both at the Setagaya museum and at select Takashimaya department stores as part of its Art Walking programme.

Screen shot 2013-05-05 at PM 10.17.51




Kyoto Painting Circles and Kamisaka Sekka 


4/24 – 5/6 Yokohama Takashimaya Gallery (8th Flr)

5/29 – 6/10 Nihonbashi Takashimaya 8th Flr

The Respendence of the Nihon-Bijutsu-in (Japan Art Institute)


4/24 – 5/12

Tamagawa Takashimaya West Annex Arena Hall (1 Flr)


Takashimaya was not the only department store who engaged artists for commercial ventures. For more information on the roles of Department Stores, their Artists and its influence, please refer to the following:

Julia Sapin, “Merchandising Art and Identity in Meiji Japan: Kyoto Nihonga Artists’ Designs for Takashimaya Department Store, 1868 – 1912”. Journal of Design History, Vol. 17. No.4. The Design History Society: 2004, pp.317 – 336.

Younjung Oh, “Art into Everyday Life: Department Store as Purveyors of Culture in Modern Japan”. Phd Thesis. University of Southern California: 2012.

Ellen P.Conant, Challenging Past and Present: The Metamorphosi of Nineteenth-Century Japanese Art. University of Hawaii:2006.

Spirit of Rimpa School and Japanese Painting Aesthetics- exhibition at Yamatane Museum of Art

Special Exhibition:
Spirit of the Rimpa School
― The World of Poetry and the Aesthetics of Japanese Painting ―

9 February (Sat.) – 31 March (Sun.) 2013

Organized by The Yamatane Museum of Art and The Asahi Shimbun Company

(text from Yamatane Museum of Art)

The recent and still flourishing interest in Rimpa School arts has led to numerous exhibitions held both in and out of Japan where these works continue to captivate visitors. This trend has also led to a reconsideration of Rimpa from many different angles. This exhibition explores Rimpa and its antecedents and later influence in terms of waka poetry and the concept of decorativeness, presenting everything from the elegant Heian period calligraphies on decorated papers which influenced Rimpa formal aesthetics to Edo period Rimpa works themselves, and the later modernNihonga paintings that they influenced in turn.


Sakai Hōitsu, Autumn Plants and Quail (Important Art Object), Yamatane Museum of Art

A small exhibition catalog is available in the Museum Shop. 

Exhibition- A Close Look at Kyoto’s Painting Studios

Exhibition at the Kyoto Municipal of Art

August 25 (Saturday) – November 25 (Sunday) 2013

As home schools and private ateliers, private art schools were one characteristic of Kyoto Japanese-style painting (nihonga) that supported the modern Kyoto art world. Various private art schools from Takeuchi Seiho’s ‘Chikujokai,’ Yamamoto Shunkyo’s ‘Sanaekai,’ Nishimura Goun’s ‘Shinchosha,’ Nishiyama Suisho’s ‘Seikosha,’ then later Domoto Insho’s ‘Tokyusha’ and the private art schools of Kikuchi Keigetsu and Nakamura Daizaburo, supported Kyoto art and industry. Here we review the history of the private art schools until the beginnings of WWII.

[ text from Kyoto Municipal of Art ]


See also, article by Matthew Larking, The Japan Times, on “Kyoto Painting Schools Pushed Nihonga to the Limit”


[image is from the Japan Times]