A study of selected periodicals and books of zuan from the Arthur Tress Collection:
Senshoku zuan by Tsuda Seifū (1904) Box 67, Item 6
Shin bijutsukai edited by Furuya Kōrin (1898 / 1902) Box 67, Item 1
Shiki nishiki by Tamamura Shimohiro (1903) Box 77, Item 6
Chigusa by Kamisaka Sekka (1903) Box 78, Item 1
Kōrin moyō by Furuya (Furatani) Kōrin (1907) Box 63, Item 1
Tennen hyakkaku by Kaigai Tennen (1900) Box 84, Item 2
Chō senshu by Kamisaka Sekka (1904) Box 63, Item 11
Matsu zukushi by Furuya (Furatani) Kōrin (1905) Box 67, Item 3
In the Meiji era, colorful pattern books were published as reference for the textile and garment industry and other crafts such as ceramics and lacquerware. These evolved from the black and white kosode pattern books (hinagata-bon) of the Edo period. The popularity of the new design books (zuancho) also gave rise to art education devoted to pattern art (zuan) and a new design profession (zuanka) (Johnson 7, 11).
The periodicals and artist books of zuan expanded the role of publications in the textile industry and also helped foster a collaborative design community. With lavishly printed zuancho published by Unsōdō and Unkindō, many artists sought to elevate pattern design as an art form, while still serving the industry’s growing clientele (Johnson 11-13).
This small selection of zuan from the Tress Collection demonstrates how the dual purpose of these books extended the intended audience, contributed to the modern art movement, and also adapted pattern reference into a form of storytelling.
Although zuan is presently regarded as a publishing phenomenon rather than an art movement, due to the great variety of styles (Johnson 15), it finds footing within an existing movement, as an extension of Rinpa. While the influence of Art Nouveau is readily apparent in much of the artwork, the prevailing school of design philosophy, put forth by Kamisaka Sekka, sought to promote modern design by further stylizing the motifs derived from Rinpa, along with references to classical Japanese themes and literature (Sekka, Ikeda, Wood).
Despite the high quality of the periodicals, some were regrettably short lived, such as the pocketable Senshoku zuan by Tsuda Seifū (1904) (fig. 1), published in only four volumes. The diminutive size invites portability and an intimacy with its artwork, such as a trusted notebook. However innovative, the smaller format is rare in this collection of zuan.
Johnson attributes the failure of some journals—from the industry’s perspective—as design ahead of its time (15). If such was the case with Senshoku zuan, which contains abstract work interspersed with traditional motifs, it suggests a publication’s success still depended heavily on the textile manufacturers, regardless of external interest.
Yet a journal such as this may have been worth the risk, for the artist if not the publisher. Whether a commercial success or failure, the artists involved benefited from activity relevant to the phenomenon: a community of peers who encouraged collaboration between artists, publishers, and the teachers and students of a newly formed profession.
Shin bijutsukai (1902-) (fig.2), an example of a long-running periodical, sought additional support from the tourist industry, as evidenced by a number of volumes featuring back covers printed in English (Johnson 23). Edited by Furuya (Furutani) Kōrin over 36 volumes, the journal highlighted popular artists, which presumably added to its wide appeal.
Occasionally pattern designs include accents evocative of sashiko (embroidery used in both the reinforcement and decoration of kimono) or shibori (tie-dye) (Fig. 3, 4, 5). Their incorporation reflects the original intention of these books, as reference for the industry. Notable is the rarer depiction of nature created from the exaggeration and further abstraction of these elements, resembling dot matrix structure, such as in the rendering of snow in Shiki nishiki (Brocade of the four seasons) (1903) (fig. 6) by Tamamura Shimohiro.
This self-referential inspiration translates the industry’s related crafts into new design elements that stand on their own. Likewise, these examples of design and composition across the collection demonstrate zuan’s contribution to the development of modern art, with the artists continually pulling Rinpa toward abstraction.
Elaborate artist’s books featured the work of a single designer or painter, often published as a limited set, or a single volume. Though many of Sekka’s publications and edited journals include traditional zuan, books such as Chigusa (A Thousand Grasses/All Kinds of Things) (1903) (fig. 7) and Momoyogusa (A World of Things) (1909) showcase his work as art prints (Andreas 127), wholly transcending the notion of pattern as textile reference only. Each page is devoted to a single work, wherein pattern and color serve the narrative, and at the same time inform the complementary sequence of facing images.
In Kōrin moyō (1907) (fig. 8), Furuya (Furutani) Kōrin, who studied with Sekka, demonstrates his talent for design and mastery of Rinpa motifs. He includes 2-3 images per spread, often devoting a tertiary horizontal space for a complementary two-toned pattern. While not unusual for zuancho to combine numerous designs on a page, Kōrin utilizes the space to his advantage and ours. Rather than becoming overwhelmed by dense pattern upon pattern, the thoughtfully composed pages help slow the pace, allowing the reader to recognize subtle relationships between the images of nature.
In a similar vein, Kaigai Tennen’s Tennen hyakkaku (One Hundred Cranes) (1900), Sekka’s Chō senshu (One Thousand Butterflies) (1904), and Kōrin’s Matsu zukushi (Pine Trees) (1905) present reflective variations upon a theme, each of which can be interpreted as either textile reference or as narrative. For example, Chō senshu (fig. 9) could easily be read as a children’s picture book, while Matsu zukushi could be read in the context of a reader’s knowledge of poetry devoted to the pine.
The dual nature of the artists’ books recalls the unique reading experience of the earliest example of hinagata-bon. Published in 1666, On-hinagata combined kosode designs with visual references to classical literature, poetry, and puns. The reader consumed the book as both fashion and literary puzzle (Saunders 52, 55).
We witness a similar sense of play, experimentation and adaptation in Arthur Tress’s photographs from the series Theoretical Models (1980-84) (Fig. 10). These abstract compositions—that at first sight appear to be intricately patterned, geometric shapes—ultimately reveal common objects refracting and reflecting light, through which spray-painting creates shadows upon shadow. Again, we are invited into another of Tress’s imaginary worlds, with no less a story than we find in his narrative work.
I find that Tress’s own words about this body of work equally befit the contemplative experience of paging through his collected books of zuan: “… perhaps I want my photos to reach with a certain molecular cool surprise, to enter the mind of the viewer and pass through him—so he both loses and retains himself in the seeing until an eventual dissipation leaves him both changed and unchanged” (qtd in Rian).
 With no table of contents for contributing artists, there is speculation that all images in the journal were created by F. Kōrin alone (Johnson 23).
Johnson, Scott. “Zuan Pattern Books: The Glory Years.” Andon 100 (2016), 5–75.
Marks, Andreas. Kamisaka Sekka, Rinpa Traditionalist, Modern Designer. Pomegranate Communications, 2012.
Saunders, Rachael. “Kimono pattern books in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.” Andon 83 (2008), 49-57.
Kanzaka Sekka, Yūko Ikeda, and Donald Alan Wood. Kanzaka Sekka: Rinpa No Keishō = Kamisaka Sekka: Rimpa Master. [Kyoto]: Kyōto Kokuritsu Kindai Bijutsukan, 2003.
Rian, Kirsten. “Arthur Tress: Theoretical Models, Photographs by Arthur Tress” https://stories.daylight.co/arthur-tress-theoretical-models, accessed 4/5/2020.
(For me too: This essay may need amending when we can access the library again)
Yokoya, Kenichirō, and Mikio Matsuo. Zuanchō In Kyoto: Textile Design Books for the Kimono Trade. Palo Alto, Calif.: Stanford University Libraries, 2008.
Tress, Arthur. Theoretical Models. Publisher, Date.
Hillier, J, and Langley Iddins. The Art of the Japanese Book. London: Sotheby’s Publications, 1987.
Posted by Catherine Gontarek, 22 July 2020