No, I have never been to Japan and I have never been overly interested in much of Japanese art, but I found an exception at the Japan Society on 47th St. in New York City the other day. Shibata Zeshin (1809-1891) was an artist as well as a lacquer specialist. As I have always appreciated the craft of art, Zeshin, I realized very quickly, was my man. His lacquer work is particularly beautiful, delicate and balanced with nuance and whimsy. His paintings exhibit similar understanding of composition and form. Furthermore, he developed ways of using lacquer on scrolls which demonstrated a dedication to material and a willingness to push his material beyond traditional scopes.
Art in today’s society has become a passport of cool of hipness, more about ideas than craft. While I understand the desire to separate from the group to celebrate one’s vision, I have to say that Zeshin was a man who understood what it was to be contemporary and still a 19th century Japanese artist.