Lot 1012
  • 1012

Shiraga Kazuo

5,500,000 - 7,500,000 HKD
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  • Shiraga Kazuo
  • Jodo (Pure Path)
  • oil on canvas
signed, titled and dated 1988.12 in Japanese on the reverse, framed


Private Japanese Collection (Acquired directly from the artist)
Art U Gallery, Osaka
Acquired by the present owner from the above

Catalogue Note

Poetic Collisions: Body, Matter, Insurgence and Tradition
Shiraga Kazuo

In the current lot (Lot 1012), Shiraga Kazuo's heavy use of dense black imbues the magnificent oil painting with the distinctive essence of East Asian ink calligraphy. In his post-Gutai years, Shiraga re-examined the traditional aesthetics and philosophy of Japanese art within the framework of his matured oeuvre; it was also in these later years, unbeknownst to many, that Shiraga took up training in traditional ink and brush calligraphy to complement his skill and breadth of style. Such a re-embracing of his oriental roots lends Shiraga's legendary feet-generated strokes the spirit and soul of masterful ink brushwork, gracing his already universally acclaimed oil canvases with sublime traces of his Eastern origins.

It is such collisions between East and West, tradition and innovation that drive the extraordinary power and dynamism of Shiraga's works. Originally trained in Nihonga, the traditional style of classical Japanese painting, the artist soon turned to oil, creating markings or scratchings with his fingers or fingernails. Beginning with these early works, Shiraga's art form is an escalation in the exercise of abjuring the brush – a process of maturation that takes its final form in his renowned foot paintings. In the early 1950s the artist finally shunned the conventional artistic stance, famously swinging himself across horizontally placed canvases with a rope fastened to the ceiling and using his feet to cast thick layers of paint. The uninhibited action allowed the artist to fully immerse himself in the work, merging body with matter in a fluid, explosive, visceral synthesis.

Shiraga said: "I decided to cast off all the existing uniforms and be naked [...] One day I swapped my knife for a piece of wood which I rejected out of impatience. I tried with my bare hands, with my fingers. Then, convinced I needed to be even bolder, I went even further and that is how I came to feet. That was it! Painting with the feet."1 His singular process epitomized the radical postwar Gutai group's progressive mission: literally meaning instrument (gu) and body (tai), Gutai rose from the rubble of post-Hiroshima Japan to propagate a philosophy of "concreteness", highlighting bodily interaction with material in the process of artistic creation. Shiraga's art in particular, predating Allan Kaprow's "happenings", constituted a revolutionary paradigm that anticipated later developments in conceptual and performance art.

Created in 1988, the current lot is almost monochromatic in palette, a strategy in Shiraga's mature years that not only integrated the Eastern ink aesthetic into his work but also served to emphasize the astonishingly accomplished brush-like movement of his feet. In spite of the sombre colour tone, the arresting, majestic specimen exudes a mesmerizing dynamism and thrilling vigour courtesy of Shiraga's unparalleled gestural skill. The uniquely primal and physical nature of his artistic expression is the result of genuine exertion and immersion of body into matter; as Shiraga explained: "I want to paint as though rushing around on a battlefield, exerting myself to collapse from exhaustion". Colliding with the colossal swipes of luscious black are electric yet elegant lashes of deep red and orange, whose charged hues and virtuosity calligraphic touch infuse the work with the poetic marriage of innovation and tradition.

1 Shiraga Kazuo, quoted in "L'Acte Même", in 1910-1970 Japon des Avant-gardes, exh. cat., Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1986, p. 300