Our Stories

Like Father, Like Son

Junpei Sekino's father was one of the most well-respected printmakers in Japan, and had hopes that his son would become an artist as well. His son had an immense amount of talent, winning first place in the junior division of a national Japanese printmaking contest at age 10. But instead of wood blocks and ink, Junpei took up math equations and computers as he grew older.

In 1985, seven years after Sekino came to Willamette to teach math, he adopted his father's trade, in a round-about way. He began programming his computer to create stunning fractal images based on equations. His computer art is now recognized across the world, with his "fractal gallery" in fourth place on Google--out of 1,800,000 entries. Encyclopedia Britannica lists it as one of the "Web's Best Sites."

Sekino types in an equation, pushes the start button and waits for the image to blossom on his screen. When he took up high-tech art 21 years ago, computers worked in slow motion, often taking an entire night to generate an image. Now his computer can process most images in several minutes, although some images are so complex they take 10 days of computing time.

The black and white palette Sekino worked with when he began has evolved into a palette of 16 million colors, enough to create three-dimensional images and build luster and brilliance. Many of his artworks are reminiscent of the traditional Asian paintings he knew as a child.

"There are deep similarities between math and art," Sekino says. "Paintings always contain three-dimensional spaciousness and geometric balance, which should be the centerpiece of fractal images as well. And a math argument has to be beautiful. It can't be cluttered."

Sekino himself is an uncluttered man. He carries an aura of peace, perhaps gained from a war-torn childhood that gave him an appreciation of simple things. Born in 1942 in Tokyo, he experienced food shortages during WWII. "Everybody was hungry, everybody was suffering, but that didn't make us kids unhappy, probably because we were all in the same boat.

"As a kid I was happy because I had open fields to play in with my friends. Most of the houses were burnt down during the war and cleared up, so we could run around and the hardworking adults never betrayed us. It was very healthy."

Sekino's father died before he saw his son's art, but Sekino believes his father would have been pleased. The math professor will retire at the end of this year and pour his energies into his own sons, 10 and 12. "I want to spend a lot of time with them, before they become teenagers and stop intermingling with their parents." He'll play baseball with his children, hunt for mushrooms in the mountains with his wife, and create magical places onscreen where children of all ages can wander.

Additional images and a more in-depth story about Junpei Sekino will appear in the upcoming edition of The Scene, Willamette University's alumni magazine.