Shin-Bijutsukai (New Oceans of Art) magazine appeared during a watershed in Japanese publishing history: when pattern and design books became standalone works of art. The first Japanese pattern books — colorless woodblock manuals, known as hinagata-bon (雛形本) — were created in the 1660s, when political stability and a bullish economy fostered an expansion in fashion and a desire for voguish textiles. While growing out of this genre, the colorful and abstract designs in Shin-Bijutsukai magazine (1902–1906) reflect a convergence of historical and technological shifts in turn-of-the-century Japanese society. Notably, artists traveling abroad on government grants encountered Art Nouveau and Japonisme — the Western European fondness for a mediated, Japanese aesthetic — which they, in turn, folded back into domestic patterns: forging originality through the prism of cross-cultural pollination. Emboldened by innovations in book production, such as newfound color-printing capabilities, and seeking to keep pace with developments in manufacturing, the Unsōdō and Unkindō publishing houses began to collaborate with artists to print a type of book known as zuan-chō (図案帳), featuring designs for textiles, lacquerware, screens, ceramics, and other crafts. As the British Library notes, “some of these were meant as source books for artisans”, but others “were conceived as beautiful objects to be enjoyed for their own sake”.
Published by Unsōdō, Shin-Bijutsukai was edited by Furuya Kōrin (1875–1910) and overseen by Kamisaka Sekka (1866–1942), the artist of A World of Things (Momoyogusa), who has been hailed as “the greatest twentieth-century Japanese designer”. Sekka taught at what is now Kyoto City University of the Arts, in one of several departments dedicated to design that were established in the late 1890s. There is a balance in Kōrin’s life and work between the traditional and the modern. Influenced by the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Rinpa school of painting, Kōrin chose his pen name knowingly, styling himself as an “[Ogata] Kōrin of the modern age”, in reference to the artist after whom the Rinpa school was coined. In 1907, Furuya Kōrin published the two-volume Designs after Kōrin, which, unlike other Rinpa-influenced pattern books dating back to 1706, weds aesthetic approaches of the Art Nouveau with older motifs. Following his mentor, Kōrin secured a teaching position in the same department as Sekka, and fashioned himself to be his teacher’s professional and artistic successor, only to pass away at the age of forty-five.
Like its editor, Shin-Bijutsukai (1902–1906) plots a similar course between timeless themes and novel influences — with title pages announcing, in English, a “New Monthly Magazine of Various Designs by the Famous Artists of To-Day”. With contributions from a variety of artists, the most striking designs in the magazine are captivatingly abstract and layered, dislocating the imagination from place or period: pastel blobs beneath a translucent surface crackled with leaf shapes; oozing, cellular frames encasing beautiful plant matter; a forest whose canopy dissolves into a wash of spilled wine.
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