Lot 130
  • 130

Kazuo Shiraga

400,000 - 600,000 GBP
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Kazuo Shiraga
  • Untitled
  • signed and dated 1959.10; signed and inscribed Gutai on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 91 by 116 cm. 35 7/8 by 45 5/8 in.


Private Collection, Japan
Acquired from the above by the present owner


Please refer to the Contemporary Art Department for a professional report.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

With its expressive, fascinating all-over composition and its hypnotic enthusiasm, Untitled is an eye-catching vestige of the immediate and dynamic painting technique of Kazuo Shiraga. Executed in 1959, the present work exemplifies the artist’s determined commitment to action painting. Dense and luscious strokes of red, orange, and yellow converge at thrilling points of intersection, maintaining their individual hues while transitioning harmoniously into one another. Shiraga’s pursuit was the fluid unification of material and creativity as well as the “exploration of action as a means of self-expression” (Gabriel Ritter cited in: Exh. Cat., Dallas, Dallas Museum of Art, Between Action and the Unkown: The Art of Kazuo Shiraga and Sadamasa Motonaga, 2015, p. 31).

As a key member of Japan’s most significant post-war art collective – The Gutai Art Association – Shiraga’s commitment to action painting as the dynamic synthesis of the artist and his work characterised the group's quest for a radical new artistic expression. Founded by the visionary artist Yoshihara Jiro in 1954, the group aimed to revitalise a society entrenched in ancient traditions with radical modern stimuli. Their pioneering exploratory practices combined aspects of performance and interactive environments, anticipating later developments in conceptual and performance art. Embodying the Gutai group’s progressive mission, Shiraga took the traditional medium of painting as his point of departure, in order to seek innovative ways to create powerful, gestural works. Fastening a rope above his paintings he would typically swing across the canvas in energetic moves, using his feet as well as his hands to spread thick layers of paint across the surface. By actually stepping onto the canvas surface with this dissolute action the artist fully engrossed himself into the work. The artist explained that he wanted to “paint as though rushing around on a battlefield, exerting myself to collapse from exhaustion" (Kazuo Shiraga cited in: Exh. Cat., New York, McCaffrey Fine Art, Kazuo Shiraga, 2009, p. 59).

Fundamental to Shiraga’s work is the concept of shishitsu, meaning ‘innate characteristics and abilities’, which serves as the driving force behind the shaping of the self. For Shiraga, the act of making art was a way of fully involving one’s own shishitsu; his paintings are an expression of the movement, spirit and intimate energy of his own time. The uniquely physical nature of his artistic expression was closely linked to his radical performances of a similar vein. In 1955, during The First Gutai Exhibition in Tokyo, Shiraga performed Challenging Mud, wrestling a mountain of clay and mud into sculptural shapes. The following year in the group’s second exhibition, Shiraga celebrated action itself as the fundamental artwork, with his painting becoming the trace of unrestrained energy and physical expression.

The present painting belongs to the artist’s ground-breaking body of work from the late 1950s and early 1960s, created at the very height of Gutai's first phase between 1954 and 1961. Against the interaction of vibrant colours, Untitled’s powerful strokes of red and explosive drips and splashes represent traces of the artist's vigorous and forceful movements. The wide, loose strokes hold a natural elegance, suggestive of the classical Japanese tradition of calligraphy and the controlled combat of a Samurai hero. However, devoid of any conventional notion of composition, in Untitled it is undisguised force and energy that initiates form. With a longstanding artistic production and international influence that far outlasted the Gutai group, Shiraga is recognised as one of Japan’s most influential artists.