SEKINO Jun'ichirô (1914-88)
Sekino Jun'ichirô (関野準一郎) was a central figure in the sôsaku hanga movement. Interested in both traditional and modern art, he admired Tôshûsai Sharaku (active c. 1794-95), and benefited from his associations with Munakata Shikô and Onchi Kôshirô. Sekino also appreciated the work of European artists such as Rembrandt, Munch, Dufy, Lautrec, Zorn, and Kollwitz.
The most obvious influence upon Sekino's early portrait style was the artist, poet, and mentor Onchi Kôshirô (1891-1955), whom he first befriended in 1939 and from whom, Sekino reported, he had learned the "spirit of art." Onchi was the pivotal figure in the sôsaku hanga movement from the 1930s until his death, and when looking at many of Sekino's large-format portraits one immediately recognizes elements of Onchi's style.
We are reminded, in particular, of a preeminent large-format portrait in sôsaku hanga — Onchi's 1943 portrait of the tragic poet Hagiwara Sakutarô (1888-1942). Sekino's connection with Onchi was a direct one — he was one of three founding members of Onchi's Ichimoku-kai (First Thursday Society), along with Yamaguchi Gen, whose meetings, begun in 1939, were held in Onchi's spacious home. The post-war demand among American and European collectors for impressions of the Hagiwara image was high, but Onchi produced very few impressions (probably between 13 and 15). Then, in 1949, Sekino printed an edition of fifty impressions with some guidance from Onchi (see the illustration below left for one of the impressions printed by Sekino). In addition, a posthumous memorial edition was commissioned by Onchi's family and printed in 1955 by Hirai Kôichi. Then in 1987, Onchi's son Kunio printed 10 more impressions from the original blocks.
A much-admired example of Sekino's post-war approach to large format portraiture is illustrated in the figure at the
top right, which depicts the kabuki actor Nakamura Kichiemon
I (初代中村吉右衛門 Shodai Nakamura Kichiemon, 1886-1954). Sekino became friends with Kichiemon during the Second World War when the actor's kabuki troupe performed at a factory
where Sekino was stationed. Although his portrait style was derived from Onchi's, Sekino used a somewhat "drier"
and more controlled method compared to Onchi's own experimental, spontaneous, and "moist" approach. Sekino's
technique, like Onchi's, involved soft edge overprintings (without keyblock outlines) of various shades of colors for the
modeling of the face. It was a complex method requiring carved-out shallow depressions in the blocks and nuanced shading of
pigments as he applied them to the blocks in multiple overprintings.
For the portrait of Kichiemon, Sekino needed 15 printing
stages and used six plywood blocks of shina (basswood or Japanese linden), a soft wood with fine texture (compared to the
traditional wood used for ukiyo-e printmaking, sakura or Japanese cherry, which was moderately hard). The image extends close to the edges of the sheet, which measures 633 x 497 mm. This impression
is from a later edition and is inscribed IIme état ("second state"), numbered 16/100, and dated 1947.
True to sosaku hanga principles, Sekino carved, printed, and published his portrait of Kichiemon. Self-printed impressions come from an early edition of 20 plus some unnumbered proofs. The later editions of 50 and 100 are studio-produced impressions, although possibly a very small number were printed by Sekino in the later years. In the example above, the image, although well printed, was most likely done by Sekino's studio artisans under his supervision.
Overall, it appears that Sekino printed the impressions of his large portrait designs for the early editions, whose sizes were: unnumbered (from 1954 or earlier), 1, 10 or less, and 20 or less. Impressions from editions of 30 are often self-printed, but not always. Examples from editions of 50 or more and from IIme état editions were almost always printed by studio artisans.
(L) Unique self-printed trial proof with added figure in background from a graffiti-style caricature by Utagawa Kuniyoshi in the series Nitakara-gura kabe no mudagaki (Storehouse of treasured goods: Scribblings on the wall: 荷宝蔵壁のむだ書 c. 1848)
(R) Impression from an early self-printed edition, numbered 19/20
Signature styles help to identify self-printed editions, particularly when the letter "J" in Jun'ichirô is written without the looping curves of later signatures. When demand rose for these large portraits, Sekino did not want to spend his time printing more editions. So he employed studio artisans to do the printing, under his general supervision (he signed and sealed these impressions, so his "approval" was explicit). To a degree these later printings are less interesting, on average, compared with Sekino's own printings because they show less variety or experimentation from impression to impression, and the papers on which they are printed were more absorbent than the earlier torinoko papers, tending to take the pigments in a similar manner across the entire edition. On the whole, self-printed impressions of these early large-format portraits are more complex and subtle in their printing (see examples below).
To make things more complex, Sekino did occasionally self-print some impressions from later editions, although on the more modern types of papers and in a manner similar to that of his artisans. Furthermore, he also occasionally used a later signature style on earlier impressions when they were sold at much later dates. With experience one can assess whether an impression is self-printed by relying on an array of factors: style of printing, edition size, signature, type of paper, application of color, and comparisons with known self-printed impressions.
The figure in the top right corner of Sekino's portrait of Kichiemon is derived from a famous portrait by Sharaku of the actor Tomisaburô
Segawa I in the role of Yadorigi in the play Hana ayame Bunroku Soga ("The Iris Soga of the Bunroku Era") given
at the Miyako-za, Edo, in 1794. The inclusion of Tomisaburô was, according to Sekino, meant simply to evoke the atmosphere
of kabuki and to establish Kichiemon as an important theatrical figure in a long tradition of illustrious actors.
The image of Kichiemon was
one of Sekino's large format portraits designed between 1946 and 1954, a stylistically coherent group, that are widely considered masterpieces in twentieth-century
Japanese printmaking. © 1999-2013 by John Fiorillo
- Elias Martin: Behind Paper Walls: Early Works and Portraits by Jun'ichirô Sekino. Chicago: Floating World Gallery, 2010.
- McClain, Robert & Yoko: Thirty-six Portrait Prints by Sekino Jun'ichirô. Eugene: University of Oregon, 1977.
- Merritt, Helen: Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1956, pp. 178-199 and 239-242.
- Statler, Oliver: Modern Japanese Prints: An Art Reborn. Rutland & Tokyo: Tuttle, 1956, pp. 63-70 and 192-194.