Sempu Nakajima, Tsuki (Moon), 2019. Handmade Senshi paper, sheep hair brush, oil smoke ink. 16″ x 16″. ( Courtesy: Agora Gallery).

Contemporary Japanese calligraphy artist Sempu Nakajima creates works on paper that communicate emotions through words. Using ink, custom brushes, and exquisite handmade paper, Nakajima renders these conceits along with a deep appreciation for nature and the beauty of traditional Japanese craftsmanship upon a series of finely pulped surfaces. By blending elements of traditional form with ephemeral contemporary practices like mixed-media and performance, Nakajima developed his skills to create a wholly original style of Japanese calligraphy for a contemporary audience. Throughout his career, Nakajima remains dedicated and deliberate in his practice and art form. Notable projects include collaboration and performance piece at the grand opening of the flagship Christian Dior store in Omotesando, Tokyo, in which he created a calligraphic art hung on the wall that measures 5 meters high by 10 meters wide.

What: Sempu Nakajima, “Transcending Passages”

When: March 16—April 6, 2021

Where: Agora Gallery,  530 West 25th Street, New York

Sempu Nakajima, Wind, 2020. Handmade Senshi paper, sheep hair brush, oil smoke ink. (Courtesy: Agora Gallery).

With each work that Nakajima creates, he clears his mind and fills his heart with visions of words or poems that inspired him to push the boundaries of his practice. As a child, Nakajima came across an ancient hanging scroll in a chashitsu (tearoom) from the late 5th century. The beauty of this piece sparked in him a life-long passion and fascination for traditional Japanese art and culture. Nakajima began studying Japanese calligraphy at age six and deepened his acumen under the tutelage of a renowned master calligrapher and Sensi Takayoshi Kaneko. For Nakajima, the art of calligraphy signifies a transformation of the contrasting sides of black and white letters into something that goes beyond words. As a lifelong pupil of this ancient art, the artist sought a style and a mode of expression that suited his own personality, one that was suffused with individualistic creativity. Subsequently, his Japanese characters became subtle vessels of life composed of simple and complex forms. Gestural swells and dips create distinctive silhouettes against negative space while bracing lines emphasize a personal vocabulary voiced through the medium of ink.
This month, Nakajima, who lives in Tokyo, will participate in Transcending Passages, a group exhibition at Agora Gallery featuring artists whose diverse range of mediums, styles, and subject matter come together to create visual narratives that transcend time and place.


Sempu Nakajima, Conflicted Heart, 2020. Handmade Senshi paper, sheep and weasel hair brush, oil smoke ink. 16″ x 16″. ( Courtesy: Agora Gallery).

Here Sempu Nakajima sits down with Fine Art Globe and describes his aesthetic and inspirations:

FA: What is the first creative project you remember?

SN: I performed calligraphy live on stage at an event for the Japanese rock band Unicorn titled “Fukasetsugetsu” or “Wind-Flower-Snow-Moon”.

FA: Describe your aesthetic in three words.

SN: Dignity, Margin, Simplicity.

FA: Art and calligraphy are complementary disciplines. How does your work illustrate this intersection?

SN: For me, the art of calligraphy is the transformation of the conflicting sides of white and black letters into something that goes beyond words.

FA: How important is scale when it comes to creating your work?

SN: Scale is important in some performance art, but less so in my other works.

FA: How does the title of your upcoming group show at Agora, Transcending Passages, resonate with your work?

SN: I worked hard to express my sincere admiration and gratitude for the temporality of nature while creating these works.

FA: Do you think creativity is something you’re born with or something you’re taught?

SN: I credit my predecessors for passing on their knowledge of calligraphy; as for creativity, I believe it is shaped by the land where one is born and the environment in which they grew up.

FA: Who has been a big influence on you in your career?

SN: Kobo Daishi “Kukai” a Japanese monk, poet, and calligrapher.

Sempu Nakajima, Calm Heart, 2020. Handmade Senshi paper, sheep and weasel hair brush, oil smoke ink. 16″ x 16″. (Courtesy: Agora Gallery).

FA: What has been an important lesson you have learned during your career?

SN: I learned the importance of holding on while simultaneously letting go of the conventions of the past.

FA: When you hit a creative block, how do you move forward?

SN: I forget everything and listen to classical music at full volume.

FA: What was the most fulfilling collaboration you’ve worked on?

SN: A collaboration and performance with Christian Dior, in which I created a calligraphic piece that measured 5 x 10 meters and was installed on a wall at the grand opening of their flagship store in Tokyo in 2003.

FA: What legacy do you hope your work creates. What message do you hope it communicates?

SN: I hope my art will be a power that will calm everyone’s heart and move toward hope.

FA: Has the pandemic affected your practice? If so, how?

SN: I have continued my calligraphy studio online. Through the use of an iPad, I’ve been able to connect with my students. I think this pandemic has made the connection between our hearts even that much clearer.