Lot 149
  • 149

Kazuo Shiraga

350,000 - 450,000 GBP
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  • Kazuo Shiraga
  • Shinsen Na Aka (Vivid Red)
  • signed; signed and titled on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 91 by 116cm.; 35 3/4 by 45 3/4 in.
  • Executed circa 1967.


Private Collection, Japan (acquired from the artist)
Private Collection, Japan (acquired from the above in 1967)
Thence by descent to the present owner


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate although the overall tonality is slightly brighter in the original. Condition: There is a professional condition report available for this work. Please refer to the Contemporary Art department for further information.
"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

„I want to paint as though rushing around a battlefield, exerting myself to collapse from exhaustion.“
Kazuo Shiraga
'What I Think', in: Exh. Cat., New York, McCaffrey Fine Art, Kazuo Shiraga: Six Decades, 2009-10, p. 59

In an explosive outburst of colour with expressive fields of sumptuous red contrasted by a creamy white background and hues of blue and ochre, Shinsen Na Aka (Vivid Red) is a vivacious example from a seminal period in Kazuo Shiraga’s oeuvre. Representative of the artist’s powerful and energetic gesture, the present work is a celebration of the primacy of colour through the application of multiple, exuberant layers of paint across the canvas. The gaze is immediately caught by the richness and intensity of successive layers of colour that combine according to their different paths. Swirls of deep reds ranging from purple to burgundy are the result of a body language of combat where the blood-red aesthetic evokes the world of the Samurai hero. The fine lines of dripping paint are dramatically juxtaposed with the heroic gesture of large fields of paint applied with wooden boards. Attesting to Shiraga’s unorthodox and highly innovative approach to painting, the present work was created at the apogee of the artist’s involvement with the progressive, avant-garde movement Gutai.

Celebrated for his expressivity and performance-like way of painting, Shiraga early on in his career abandoned the traditional paintbrush and began using his body – mainly his hands and feet – to imbue his paintings with fiery, passionate, and above-all spontaneous gestures of expression. In 1954, the artist began to paint with his feet instead of a brush in an attempt to distance himself from any painterly conventions. By hanging a rope from the ceiling in order to support his body above the canvas that lay on the floor, Shiraga developed his signature technique, which culminated in his sliding over the pliable oil paint. By 1964, Shiraga started to appropriate wooden boards to paint with, a technique that was as inventive as it was consequent regarding the artist’s previous choices of unusual painting tools. As a way forward from his feet paintings, Shiraga appropriated the wooden boards as a painting tool to prevent any routine or formalism to creep into his work. The present work is testament to the incredible sense of speed and centrifugal energy that is exuded by this extraordinary technique. No less powerful than the dynamism of his feet paintings, these paintings are composed of the sinuous movements that emphasise the inherent physical act of the wooden board moving across the canvas. Shiraga adopted this method in order to apply larger fields of colour onto the canvas, creating a fan-like composition with great arcs that accentuate the motion of the fluent lines.

Forming part of Japan’s leading post-war avant-garde movement Gutai, Shiraga’s own philosophy of painting deeply resonated with the claim made by Jiro Yoshihara, the prominent mentor figure of Gutai: “Never imitate others! Make something that never existed!” (Jiro Yoshihara quoted in: Exh. Cat., New York, McCaffrey Fine Art, Kazuo Shiraga: Six Decades, 2009-10, p. 15). Seeking innovative outlets for a new artistic freedom, the Gutai group, literally translating as instrument (gu) and body (tai), embraced novel forms of expression such as happenings and performances. The role attributed to the artist’s body became the primary tool to re-establish a connection between the artist’s work and his living immediacy. Gutai itself arose from Zerokai founded in 1952 by Shiraga with the aim of creating an art out of nothing, free of all intention and all convention.

By breaking with the artistic conventions of the past in favour of an expressive, gestural abstraction, Shiraga was an important artistic influence beyond Japan. His unrelenting energy and dynamism with which he attacked the conventional medium of painting by emphasising its physicality aligns him with the action paintings of Jackson Pollock and the Anthropometries of Yves Klein, where the French artist used female models as human paintbrushes. Appropriating his own body as a paintbrush and constantly embracing new techniques such as the wooden boards used in the present work, Shiraga has created a fascinating and diverse oeuvre that has redefined the parameters of the painterly medium.