Allan West: Nihonga Artist
Tucked away on a narrow street in one of Tokyo’s oldest and most interesting neighborhoods is the studio of Nihonga artist, Allan West. Allan and I met a few years ago, when we were fellow lecturers for an international conference in Kyoto.
Nihonga is a fascinating medium with strong roots in traditional Japanese painting and some western influence. Its development into a modern Japanese art form came about shortly after Japan opened up to the world following nearly 250 years of self-imposed isolation, in the 1800s, through the influence of art critics, such as Okakura Tenshin and Ernest Fenollosa. At a time of extraordinary fascination with western art by the Japanese, the concept of Nihonga was brought forward as a way of focusing attention on overshadowed traditional Japanese art. However, Nihonga was different from pre-modern Japanese painting in the breadth of the subjects portrayed. It also combined previously separate styles of Japanese painting, such as Kano and Rimpa, and incorporated western perspective, among other techniques.
Allan West discovered Nihonga during graduate school at the Tokyo University of Fine Arts, located just around the corner from what is now his studio. After receiving an MFA in Japanese painting, he set up his studio in Japan, and has worked here, ever since. Allan’s innovative Nihonga is shown and collected throughout the world.