"The characters I write have been used in our society for a long time and the oil from my fingers has seeped into those characters. That is why it is possible for me to pour all of my energy into my calligraphy." –Inoue Yuichi
Inoue Yuichi was one of five founders of the Bokujinkai group in Japan, acknowledged as the most influential and innovative of the post-war avant-garde traditional arts groups at the time.1 Central to their strategy was the identification of the abstract, conceptual and spiritual essence of shodo (calligraphy), which they sought to reconceptualize as a form of expressionist contemporary painting. Bokujinkai artists explored radical methods and experimented with various materials such as cardboard, sticks, and broom-sized brushes to apply mineral pigments, oil paint, and lacquer instead of ink on surfaces of canvas, wood, or glass rather than traditional paper. These avant-garde tendencies inspired innovation, including the formation of the renowned Gutai art group established by Jiro Yoshihara in 1956. However, Bokujinkai maintained both philosophical and material connection specific to calligraphy as the core component of Eastern religion, philosophy and poetry with the aim to seek a common universal language. Co-founder Morita Shiryu, prominent calligrapher and intellectual, stated that the group’s mission was “to establish calligraphy on the basis of modern art and theoretical ideas...To expand calligraphy on a global scale.”2
During this period of post-war idealism—while artists in the West embraced the spontaneous gesture of Abstract Expressionism and Art Informel as a reflection of perceived chaos and terror in the post-war condition—artists in the East drew upon the inherent gesture of calligraphic arts as a medium for expressionist painting, experiencing a sense of euphoria and liberation from decades of totalitarian oppression. In this period, Inoue Yuichi was determined to convey new significance within old ideals and carve out forms of expression to replicate his struggle. Capturing the beauty of kanji, Chinese characters, Yuichi created powerful, massive single-character expressions that channel his inner states of mind through the spontaneous yet meditated movement of both his body and brush. Blurring the boundaries between calligraphy, abstract painting and performance art, Yuichi’s transcendent artistic language was recognized in major international displays of abstract art including MoMA in New York in 1954, Sao Paolo Biennale in 1957, and Documenta II in Kassel in 1959. As such, global exhibitions of East and West sought to highlight the artistic and philosophical similarities between the works of modern calligraphy artists and abstract gesture artists. Thus, Yuichi became increasingly recognized for his free-form works distinguished from those of high-profile artists in the West such as Jackson Pollock and Hans Hartung.
Created in 1966, Yume (Dream) is a distinctive example of Yuichi’s painting style from the 1960s and early 1970s exhibiting a sophisticated texture of ink with tonal gradients and trailing brush marks. By this period, Yuichi had adopted the practice of intensely focusing on single character paintings and repeated experiments with the same character over and over again, frequently destroying works that he viewed to be inferior. The present 1966 painting derives from a sequence of experiments with the yume character where the dynamic expression seems to simultaneously reflect the artist’s personal awakening and artistic confidence developed in this period. In contrast to his earlier experiments of single characters that featured densely controlled ink tones and the subsequent works of the late 1970s and 1980s, which mainly focus on the literary meaning of the character rather than tonality, this present painting presents a masterful example of reduction of control from his brush and the reveal of splashes of ink illustrate the ongoing narrative between artist and the medium.
1 Munroe, Alexandra, “With the Suddenness of Creation: Trends in Abstract Painting in Japan and China, 1945–1970,” Asian Traditions/Modern Expressions: Asian American Artists and Abstraction, 1945–1970, Harry N. Abrams, New York, 1997, p. 35
2 Bokubi No. 1, June 1951.
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