Jun'ichiro Sekino Biography

Jun'ichiro Sekino




Jun’ichiro Sekino was born on October 23, 1914 in Aomori City, Aomori Prefecture, Japan, the son of an rice and fertilizer merchant. Sekino grew up in Aomori with Shiko Munakata, who was 11 years older, and whom he followed around on sketching trips, often carrying Munakata’s tools. This experience probably instilled his interest and love of art in the boy. From an early age on Sekino studied printmaking and oil painting. In 1936 he won a prize at Bunten for an etching. Bunten was part of the official government controlled art scene with juries who decided on the admission of artworks. Being accepted to these official exhibitions, was quite some success, and winning a prize was an even more remarkable achievement for the young artist.

In 1939 Sekino moved to Tokyo. He met and studied under Koshiro Onchi, the great mentor of the sosaku hanga print movement. During his art training Sekino had learned multiple disciplines, the Japanese woodblock method and Western techniques, like etching. Although he had some art training, Sekino was basically self-taught. His great paragons were the old Japanese and European masters – Sharaku, Hiroshige, Toulouse-Latrec, Dufy, Rembrandt and especially Albrecht Dürer.

The years before and during World War II was an extremely bad time for Japanese artists - especially for printmakers, whose success and livelihood often depended on art exports to Western countries, with the United States of America as the major foreign market for Japanese prints.

Sekino worked during the war years in an ammunition factory. Even the most basic resources for printmaking, like paper or ink, were rationed. Art production had come to a virtual standstill for Japanese artists between 1940 and 1945. After 1945 he slowly began to make his way to international fame. In the late 1940s he made a living doing book illustrations.

The artist's breakthrough came in the 1950s. In 1953 he had his first one-man show in Tokyo. His prints were shown at international exhibitions outside Japan like the Print Biennales in Lugano, Switzerland or Ljubljana. International museums like the MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) in New York, The Boston Museum of Fine Arts or the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris began to collect his prints. With an official invitation by the Rockefeller Foundation and the American Japan Society Sekino came to the United States in 1958 for the first time, travelling to New York where he taught at Pratt Institute. From then on follows a long list of international exhibitions, prizes and frequent travels in Northern and Southern America and in Europe. The journey of 1958 was not his last trip to the United States. In 1963 Sekino taught printmaking at Oregon State University. After his return to Japan he taught at Kobe University in 1965.

Sekino's imagery covered an incredible range of techniques and styles. Among his prints one can find everything from realistic and figurative to abstract compositions, from black and white, from subdued colors to even brilliant and expressive, colorful designs. Sekino used traditional Japanese and Western printmaking methods - woodblock (Japanese), lithography and etching (Western). Sometimes he took advantage of mixed techniques of overprinting.
For his last and most famous print series, the "Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido" and his outstanding achievements in the Japanese arts, he received the Ministry of Education Award in 1975. Several more honors followed until 1988. Jun’ichiro Sekino died on January 10, 1988 in Japan.