Seto House – 1952


This is a former large private house in the middle of the port which was given by the Seto family to the town of Wakkanai. It is free to visit and has many interesting displays and features which were demonstrated to us. 

Domestic architecture here is introspective with room views and their arrangements focusing inward. Even when looking onto the carefully manicured wildness of the house’s small garden the view was  framed and enclosed to protect against outside intrusion by walls topped with bamboo screens.

These painted sliding doors are so Rothko-esque I’ve had to check the dates of Rothko’s paintings to discover they are contemporaneous with the painter’s abstract work. Japan clearly discovered the power of visual abstraction long before the modern art movements of the West and this can be seen in the temple screen paintings of Kyoto. At Nishi-Honganji Temple there are wall screens showing bamboos, grasses and tigers which are more interested in exploring shape, form and colour than necessarily depicting their subject matter realistically. 

When looking at the painted sliding doors and the diminishing horizon lines in the house there is some irony that they choose to depict the expanse of the outer world from within a place which makes itself so separate from it. This might be explained by the house’s original owner being a fishing trawler man and the abstract painting speaking more of sea sunsets and a life beyond the house than those confined from within it. 

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