This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by Takeo Yamaguchi Artwork Registration Association
My motif is always cosmic. In other words, man, beast, plant, wood, earth, stone and other things in existence are all comprehended and epitomized in the life of the cosmos. - Yamaguchi Takeo1
Testu (Lot 719) exudes a cosmic serenity, featuring small black holes scattered (tetsu translates as "scatter", "sprinkle", "spread", or "remove") across a sea of Venetian red like stars across a deep sky. Yamaguchi related the reddish brown pigment to the soil of Korea. Both of Yamaguchi's signature colours (burnt russet red and ochre yellow) are the colours of the earth, while also being inseparable from his own personal temperament and constitution. After the war Yamaguchi painted exclusively in either of these two colours upon black backgrounds, creating his own unique brand of monochrome abstraction.
Yamaguchi's philosophy of colour differs from that of the New York Colour Field artists in two ways. First, his textured impasto possesses a palpable materiality and sculptural presence wholly distinct from their flatness. Second, for the Colour Field artists, colour was freed from form and objective context to become a subject in itself; while for Yamaguchi, colour remained from beginning to end inseparable from subject, object, medium, and form. His monochrome was a concrete one deeply rooted in the world: he painted with the soil of the earth, sculpting the bare bones of reality while being nourished by the soul of nature. It is small wonder, then, that Yamaguchi's abstractions are severe in colour and form yet counterintuitively rich, abundant, and tranquil--a stark contrast to Piet Mondrian's cool plasticity and Mark Rothko's tragic moodiness.
What is truly remarkable about Yamaguchi's monochrome aesthetic is how it held its own--solitary yet unyielding--against the great gestural tides of European Informel and American Abstract Expressionism, the prevalent style of the time. While other Asian artists of the period, especially those who went to study abroad, assimilated in some way or another into various existing schools and trends, Yamaguchi stayed true to his own vision. After returning to Asia, Yamaguchi stayed in Korea until after the war and thereafter resided in Japan. During his time in each country Yamaguchi influenced countless art students from both Japan and Korea, personally nurturing and supporting--often financially as well as artistically--the frontiers of the Asian avant-garde.
Amongst his protégé was Lee Ufan, leading thinker and advocate of Mono-Ha ("School of Things") and Dansaekhwa ("Monochrome"), who openly acknowledged Yamaguchi's important influence on his work. Yamaguchi was also a generous friend and mentor of the Korean abstract pioneer Kim Whanki, who also famously favoured a monochrome palette, and often supplied the younger artist with brushes, oils, and canvases during difficult times. In effect, Yamaguchi's one-man legacy heralded the wave of monochrome artists in Asia that gained acclaim in the 1970s, whose tactile, single-colour surfaces echo Yamaguchi's emphasis on material, nature, and the painting process.
1 Exh. cat. Yamaguchi Takeo and Horiuti Masakazu, National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, 1980, p. 243