“I Tried to Create a Modern Interpretation of the Landscape of the Four Seasons.” Japanese-style Painter Seibo Nishino’s Take on What Went on Behind the Scenes of the Ad Visual Creation Process, and the Common Denominator in His Creative Work

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The M45 F7 Mechanical Moon Phase is a model with a mother-of-pearl dial that reveals an array of expressions depending on the way the light hits, and a moon phase display at 6 o’clock. The first model of its kind launched in 2022 and was well received by users, and this year, in 2023, the third model was released. Japanese-style painter Seibo Nishino created the advertisement visuals for the three models. We spoke to Nishino-san, an artist who interprets traditional beauty through contemporary sensibilities, about the appeal of Japanese-style paintings, the behind-the-scenes of the ad visuals, and the commonalities between art and watches.

Text: with ORIENT STAR Editorial Team
Projector support: Epson Sales (EPSON EB-L1405U)

Japanese-style Paintings are More Interesting if You Focus on This

“The term ‘nihonga’ (Japanese-style painting) first emerged in in the Meiji era.”

This is what Japanese-style painter Seibo Nishino says when explaining the origins of Japanese painting. The artist is known for creating works that merge traditional nihonga techniques with contemporary art, and since last year he has been creating the ad visuals for Orient Star’s M45 F7 Mechanical Moon Phase.

According to Nishino-san, various schools and styles of painting have emerged from Japan since ancient times including Yamato-e, the Kano and Rimpa schools, and Ukiyo-e. However, when the shogunate fell at the end of the Edo period and the Meiji Restoration began, painters of the shogunate belonging to the Kano and other schools suddenly lost their jobs, while Westernization accelerated and Western art such as oil paintings entered the country. In an attempt to revive Japanese art, the ideologist Okakura Tenshin and Ernest Fenollosa launched a new Japanese art movement based on the keyword “nihonga.”

“Some time after Japan opened its doors, Western oil paintings in the style of realism and impressionism began entering Japan. This motivated Japanese artists to create paintings that were as good as the West, and they began to explore a new style of Japanese painting. Until then, Japanese paintings had adorned objects like sliding doors, folding screens, fans, plates, or kimonos. Folding screens are interior objects, hanging scrolls are part of the wall, and sliding door pictures are pretty much like wallpaper. But as oil paintings came in, Japanese artists began switching to tableaus, or in other words paintings that could be framed. Their style of expression changed too: Japanese paintings prior to that point were attractive because of their distinct lines, but around this time artists began replacing lines for more blurred shapes that were given the pejorative name ‘morotai’ (vague style). At first, they were unpopular among the masses, but they gradually became accepted until the nihonga became a reputable style of art.”

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Seibo Nishino. A Japanese-style painter who creates modern interpretations of traditional Yamato-e and ink paintings. He created ad visuals for Orient Star’s M45 F7 Mechanical Moon Phase from 2022 to 2023.

Nishino-san’s work particularly focuses on adopting the Yamato-e style of nihonga. This style emerged over a thousand years ago in the Heian era and is said to be the original style of Japanese painting. Nishino-san explains that his creations are a way for him to return to the past as a contemporary soul, and to investigate the appeal of Yamato-e as something that is connected both to the present day and the future.

“In addition to the beautiful lines as I just mentioned, the other appeal of Yamato-e is the mineral pigments used. Natural mineral pigments represent the history of the earth. Paint is made by pulverizing natural soil or crushing natural rocks into fine pieces, and this dust represents time accumulated on this earth. Some say these minerals hold power: the colour ultramarine is created from crushed azurite quasi-gemstones, while the blue-green colour is made of malachite. If you look closely, you can see the gem’s particles glittering beautifully. The supply of natural mineral pigments is unstable, with some being made from quasi-gemstones while others being made of rocks that aren’t so precious, so in a way, it comes down to luck. I like this idea of having once-in-a-lifetime encounters with pigments, and sometimes when I’m fortunate enough to get my hands on pigment from a good gemstone lot, it inspires me to draw certain pictures with it. Another interesting thing about Yamato-e is that they used gold and silver. In Western art you would often see gold leaf on religious paintings, but there aren’t many instances in which the West used it in landscape or flower paintings like in Japan.”

He says that the beauty of Yamato-e paintings becomes all the more evident if you focus on the lines, the colour of mineral pigments, the use of gold and silver leaf, and the supporting materials such as the Japanese washi paper, silk, and glue (Nikawa). Another point that fascinates Nishino-san is the picture scroll format.

“Picture scrolls are temporal art pieces similar to movies, where the story unfolds over time. When you first open a scroll, you see a short poem or foreword to the story, and then you proceed to view the scroll as a visual accompaniment, moving sideways. One of the most famous picture scrolls is the Tale of Genji Scroll, as well as the Choju-giga scrolls (“scrolls of frolicking animals”) which many of you will know. This is said to be the origin of manga and anime. Another painting that makes you think about the concept of time is the Landscape of Four Seasons. Consisting of a pair of six-section folding screens, the painting depicts each of Japan’s four seasons, and time goes around in a circle from spring, summer, autumn and winter, then spring again. Nowadays we believe that time ‘flows,’ but this painting leads me to believe that people in the past must have conceived time as something that moves in a cyclical way.”

The Moment I Saw the Watch Face, I thought "That's a Yamato-e"

In 2022, Orient Star commissioned Nishino-san to create ad visuals for the M45 F7 Mechanical Moon Phase. While he had previously worked on visuals for automotive brands and beverage manufacturers, this was the first time he had been asked to create visuals for a watch.

“Time is something that had always been on my mind, so I thought it was fate, and that this will no doubt become a valuable experience for me. At the same time, I felt that the universe was telling me to think about time more seriously [laughs].”

The M45 F7 Mechanical Moon Phase is a model featuring a moon phase display showing the phases of the moon, and a power reserve indicator that shows the remaining time on the wound-back spring. In 2022 a poetic version of the model with a mother-of-pearl dial was launched, and in 2023 the third model was released. Seeing the watch in person – the moon phase display and the dial that changes expressions depending on the way the light hits – immediately gave Nishino-san a range of ideas to work with.

“The moment I saw the watch face, I was immediately inspired. The glimmering dial reminded me of the surface of water, and the water reflecting the cyclical nature of time with the moon shifting from a full moon to new moon. The two bulges in front of the moon looked like mountains. I thought about how the watch reminds me of a landscape, and then it hit me: this is exactly like a Yamato-e. It had similarities to the Landscape of Four Seasons, a painting that I personally respect. From there, I decided on the theme of putting a contemporary spin on the Landscape of Four Seasons.”

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The third M45 F7 Mechanical Moon Phase model released in 2023 and ad visual created by Nishino-san.

The moon phase display was what piqued his curiosity the most.

“I’ve always loved the Moon and the universe since I was a child, and my favourite movie to this day is 2001: A Space Odyssey. Many Yamato-e paintings depict the Moon, so that’s probably why I was strangely attracted to the Moon this time around. The trilogy of visuals I created for this project show an enlarged Moon partially hidden by clouds, using red- and blue-toned gold leaf.”

Another thing that inspired Nishino-san’s creation was Lake Tazawa in Akita Prefecture, which is depicted on this watch. Akita Prefecture is where Orient Star’s watches are manufactured. This model uses a mother-of-pearl dial to express the area’s famous landscape of Lake Tazawa and its natural surroundings, and the beautiful reflection of the moon on the lake’s surface.

“I’d heard that cranes come to Lake Tazawa, so that’s the scene I wanted to paint. I modeled my cranes on the ones that appear in Tawaraya Sotatsu’s Anthology with Cranes and the Thirty-six Poets, because I love how beautifully he captures their silhouette as they fly into the air. I also thought the upward angle at which they seem to fly was a good omen. I painted the cranes using platinum powder. The gold, silver and platinum leaf on the Moon and cranes are interesting because they shine differently depending on the angle. In the olden days before electricity, people used to look at paintings under the light of Japanese candles. Japanese candles produce large flames that sway. The swaying light would make paintings look as if they were swaying too – as if the Moon was shimmering and swaying, and the cranes were moving. It would be great if my visuals invited viewers to enjoy some of that old-fashioned charm.”

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Nishino-san was attracted to the Moon from a young age. When he saw the mechanical moon phase display, his first thought was “I wonder how the moon part works?”

Since last year, Nishino-san has painted three visuals in total for Orient Star. The third painting, created this year, was an opportunity for him to rediscover what he could express through the Yamato-e style.

“When making the first visual, I was torn about the brightness and tone of the colours I was using. Because the scene depicts the Moon at night, it should ideally be dark, but I knew I had to show some colour at the same time. I wondered how dark I should make the background to convey that it was a nightscape. The third visual on the other hand was for a model that had a more classic, brown-based design, so I decided that I could make the painting slightly flashier. I think the resulting visual still feels like night, even though bright ultramarine and blue-green colours are used in a bold way. If this were a photograph or Western painting, the mountains would look darker due to being backlit by the moonlight. What’s special about Yamato-e is that you can add colour there. As I was painting the picture, it made me think about how Yamato-e’s idea of depicting the night in a bright way might be somehow connected to light displays and projection mapping in today’s society.”

Both Art and Watches Have the Power to Affect People’s Minds

Nishino-san interprets Yamato-e paintings from the Heian era with a modern sensibility using mineral pigments that represent the history of Earth, while being aware of the cyclical nature of time as depicted in the Landscape of Four Seasons. Time seems to be a concept he grapples with in all of his creations. This is also evident from the ideas that underlie his creative processes.

“Once, by mistake, I dropped a single drop of black sumi ink on a piece of paper that I had prepared with undercoating. There was nothing I could do about it, so I decided to drip some more on there – first just the ink, and then the ink mixed with silver powder. Gradually, it turned into this interesting landscape. By the way, this technique of dripping ink and silver powder is one that was used by the Rimpa school. Some stains looked good, while others I wished I could erase but couldn’t. I call these ‘memory stains.’ I decided to just keep covering the stains of both good and bad memories with more stains, until the whole thing turned into a history of stains of my own personal memories. A stain generally isn’t seen as a positive thing, but in the world of painting, a stain can adopt character or look like a landscape that you can’t quite put your finger on or can be turned into something that’s beautifully sublime.”

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Like Memory Stain, he says that sometimes unexpected events can lead to new ideas.

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Memory Stain is one of Nishino-san’s major series that he has been working on from 2003 for almost two decades, and consists of ink paintings as well as paintings using Rimpa school and Yamato-e techniques. Memory Stain, Light Stain, or Map – Waterscape and Azure Landscape (2023), depicted in the image, is one of his latest contemporary art pieces, consisting of natural indigo and Prussian blue on Japanese washi paper.

Memory stains, both good and bad, continue to accumulate on top of one another. In some respects, you could say that mechanical watches as a product are similar in nature. One of the appeals of mechanical watches is that they can be used for decades with regular maintenance. We all have the experience of growing fond of something the more you use it. Orient Star hopes that people will see their watch as a partner accompanying them over the course of their long lives, through professional successes and setbacks, major life events, and time spent with loved ones.

“I want watches to be that kind of product – the kind that adopts a character and a certain richness with age. I wasn’t in the habit of wearing watches recently, but creating these visuals has made me realize how great watches are. It’s made me want to start wearing them again.”

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Nishino-san wearing the M45 F7 Mechanical Moon Phase. Based on a classic design, the watch perfectly complements his delicate, slender wrist.

If a watch’s sole function is simply to be a timepiece for telling the time, then watches aren’t a necessary tool in contemporary society. Similarly, the world of art is not something that is strictly necessary in terms of survival. So why is it that art is still needed and sought after? Nishino-san gave an interesting answer that seemed to suggest what the future of watches might hold.

“Some say art isn't necessary, but I believe that art is essential for the human mind. One big factor for needing art today is that there are more buildings and more wall space. Many of today’s buildings have dull and uninteresting walls. Art has the power to transform such a space with a single painting or a craftwork. I hope that my artwork also has the power to transform the space in which it is hung. I used to have a traditional recessed tokonoma room in my house where I’d display scrolls, pottery pieces and ikebana flower arrangements as a way to enrich my life. I feel that watches play a similar role. Wearing this watch has the ability to change the way your wrist looks, change your mood, and even change your style of fashion. There’s always a person on the receiving end. So I feel that it needs to have the power to move people in some way.”

Taking a moment from work or chores to momentarily break away from the busyness of life – just like as you would in front of the tokonoma, which traditionally served to enrich our daily lives. The M45 F7 Mechanical Moon Phase, inspired by the famous landscape of Lake Tazawa, is a watch that embodies this desire to immerse oneself in such a moment of relaxation.

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Seibo Nishino

Japanese-style painter. Born 1962 in Saitama Prefecture and raised in Tokyo. Launched his career as a graphic designer in 1983 and worked as an assistant to Tadanori Yokoo. He then studied at the Tokyo University of the Arts Japanese Painting department and learned about Japanese painting (nihonga). Upon completion of his PhD, he exhibited in various solo and group shows, and provided artwork for corporate ads. He made an appearance on the NHK-BS program “Gokujo Bi No Kyoen – Rimpa School Series ① The Grand Revolution: Tawaraya Sotatsu’s Anthology with Cranes and the Thirty-six Poets.” Major works include Mogao Cave Murals (No. 278 Bodhisattva on the South Side of the West Wall of the Cave/Sui) Reproduction (1992, collection of Taito Ward); Ring (Island of Memory BALI Series), collection of Sato Museum); and Memory Stains, Light Stains, or Map - In Four Parts (2022, a contemporary art piece consisting of an ink painting 3 meters high and 8 meters wide). He continues to be active in a variety of fields, and his works combining traditional Japanese painting techniques with contemporary art are highly acclaimed.

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$1,870.00