Painting on ceiling at Ganshoin Temple (Nagano, Japan) by Hokusai
Gone, but not forgotten
By the end of the 19th century, the Kano school had succumbed to the pressures of westernisation and the soaring cost of traditional natural materials. These days, the prized natural pigments can be sourced from just nine shops in Japan. But that’s not the end of the story. The traditional-style nihonga paintings that typify the Kano school remain one of Japan’s most prized exports.
Hand made “Washi” rice papers
for Japanese paintings.
Ancient artisan methods and all-natural materials
Using highly traditional artisan methods, nihonga artists paint directly onto washi (Japanese paper) or eginu (silk) with an animal-hair brush. These paintings come in two distinct forms: monochrome (single-colour) or polychrome (multi-coloured). Monochrome nihonga typically feature sumi (Chinese ink) made from soot mixed with fish bone or animal hide glue. Meanwhile, polychrome nihonga traditionally use pigments from natural ingredients like corals, shells and minerals like malachite (green), lapis (blue) and cinnabar (red). The raw ingredients are ground down into powder form and classified into 16 separate gradations based on their texture. With these natural pigments, coarser grains equate to deeper colours.
American-born artist Allan West – one of Japan’s most respected art-world figures - has spearheaded a revival of Kano school painting, bringing this stunning genre back to life with a modern energy. After 30 years in Japan, Allan is creating sought-after authentic Kano school paintings, layered with intricate gold and silver leaf.
Allan West created "Usa no matsu” for Noh performance in London & Paris November 2009
Allan is one of very few artists to insist on keeping his methods 100% traditional, from the artisan-made natural pigments and materials right down to the traditional animal-hair paint brush. Best of all, these colours are much more durable than those produced by artificial pigments. That means that your painting won’t fade over time, so you don’t need to protect it under glass when it’s on display.
Authentic, bespoke Japanese paintings that last a lifetime
Allan was even commissioned to produce work for Princess Aiko’s presentation ceremony and was selected by the Japanese Foreign Ministry to exhibit his paintings abroad as exemplars of Japanese art.
Don’t worry, though – not all his work comes with a royal price tag attached. Take a look our selection of Allan West’s unique Japanese paintings. Each one is personally certified by Allan, so what you see really is what you get.
Japanese painting Exhibition in Tokyo