Lot 601
  • 601

Imai Toshimitsu

400,000 - 600,000 HKD
475,000 HKD
bidding is closed


  • Imai Toshimitsu
  • Composition
  • oil and sand on canvas
  • 64.7 by 53.3 cm; 25½ by 21 in.
signed in English and dated 1960 on the reverse, framed


Private Collection
Christie's, South Kensington, 7 December 2001, lot 120
Acquired by the present owner from the above sale


France, Paris, Christie’s, Un art autre? Tribute to Michel Tapié Exhibition, 31 Jan - 29 February 2012

Catalogue Note

The Odyssey Begins
Domoto Hisao & Imaï Toshimitsu

When I returned from my first trip to Europe, I wanted to go back immediately to study in Paris. But soon I realized that I didn't know Japan well enough yet. So I decided to take a little time to travel around and see some of the ancient heritage of the East before leaving for Europe.
– Domoto Hisao1

Even in Paris that at first looks gay and free, we must leap into the turmoil […] It is not enough to remain a lukewarm onlooker. [I] must stand up as a creator and inspire the response of others in a plastic language.
– Imaï Toshimitsu2

The story of the international post-war avant-garde began with critical journeys undertaken by artists in the early 1950s. Amongst the first pioneers to venture forth to unknown lands were two singular Japanese artists, Domoto Hisao and Imaï Toshimitsu, who each developed signature lyrical abstract styles with their own unique flair. By synthesizing aesthetic philosophies from the East and West, Domoto and Imaï enriched not only the European Informel movement but the entire global stage of abstraction.

Domoto Hisao first travelled to Paris in 1952. After this first visit, during which he was instantly captivated by contemporary currents in French painting, Domoto nevertheless decided to spend the next three years immersed in the arts of Japan and East Asia before continuing his artistic journey in Europe. Domoto’s intention was to solidify his identity and artistic heritage before venturing again to Paris, seeking strength in his culture’s long tradition in order to hold his own against the tides of Informel. After his eventual relocation, his ensuing signature aesthetic, exemplified by Untitled (Lot 602), was a philosophical and aesthetic mélange of Japanese sensibilities and Western expressionism, exuding a cosmic lyricism that immediately set him apart from European artists. Executed in 1958, one year after Domoto’s debut European solo exhibition at the Galerie Stadler in Paris, the piece evokes the vigour and grandeur of crashing waves and galactic winds, exhibiting deft and dynamic brushwork paired with poised compositional discipline. Compared to the heavyweight matière of European Informel painters, such as that of Alberto Burri, Jean Dubuffet, and Jean Fautrier, Domoto’s impasto possesses a nimble dexterity that recalls the precision and lightness of touch of Eastern ink calligraphy.

Meanwhile, balancing the tumultuous yet elegant symphony of black, indigo, lilac, and yellow is a vast expanse of white – one that occupies almost half the canvas, and which glows with a luminous mysticism achieved through layering of white, grey, or even black underpainting. Apart from being a critical compositional element, Domoto’s white is imbued with a profound presence on its own that resonates with Oriental philosophies of emptiness and spatiality. In 1960, writing in the catalogue for Domoto’s solo exhibition at Minami Gallery, Tokyo, French critic and Informel leader Michel Tapié wrote that Domoto’s works “subsumes both the dialectical attainments of Western mathematicians in topological composition and the intuitive properties that Eastern painting has carefully upheld down through centuries”.3 Japanese critic Takashina Shūji observes, meanwhile, that “the unique quality of Domoto’s art lies in this tension between the artist’s expressive impulse and his desire to create order, and in the delicate balance he establishes from that tension, thus creating a world of cosmic harmony [...] akin to the ‘spirit rhythm life movement’ that has been prized in East Asian art since ancient times”.4

A uniquely cosmic propensity and East Asian sensibility, albeit of a different orientation, is likewise found in Imaï Toshimitsu’s Composition (Lot 601). Fierce churning tornado to Domoto’s sea-swept winds, and rugged earthy porcelain to Domoto’s tossing waves, the present lot by Imaï is an exquisite masterpiece that is assertive yet graceful, urgently explosive yet sublimely composed and contained, achieving a magnificent balance between dense impasto and paradoxical dynamic movement. Like Domoto, who was of the same age, Imaï travelled from Japan to Paris in 1952. The young painter found an audience in Paris almost overnight, exhibiting in the “Salon des artistes indēpendants” in 1953 and hosting his debut solo exhibition in the same year at Galerie 25. Loved by critics and artists alike, Imaï fully integrated into the increasingly international Parisian art world and became acquainted with artists such as Jean-Paul Riopelle, a Canadian, and the Americans Norman Bluhm and Sam Francis. It was Francis who, in 1955, introduced Imaï to Tapié and instigated Imaï’s official association with Informel. Imaï would go on to become one of the most instrumental proponents of movement; however, even during the period when he most closely identified with Informel, Imaï’s work embodied a spirit wholly distinct from that of his European counterparts – one that, as critic Takiguchi Shuzo writes, “goes back to the primitive elements of Japanese art whose masterpieces formerly realized the perfect unity of signs and matter [...] Imaï admits in his picture his sympathy for the magic of the earth and the fire of Japanese potters”.5

Created in 1960, an important year when Imaï was selected to represent Japan at the Venice Biennale, Composition exhibits precisely the aforementioned “unity of sign and matter”: sinewy tendons that leap and dance, balanced precariously on its vortex as if spinning like a top; a crusty earth-toned stage alive with ridges and craggy crevices; and scatterings of sand grit that augment the organic textures. In that same year, Italian critic Enrico Crispolit highlighted the presence of the “mysterious and fabulous natural world” within Imaï’s paintings, emphasizing that the artist was “not referring to a specific classical heritage, a refined artistic style, but rather [...] to that indistinct and variously interwoven whole—having virtually much greater power”6. Another Italian critic, Marco Valsecchi, devoted the largest part of his review of the 1960 Venice Biennale to Imaï, a fact that pays testament to the artist’s fully international status. In subsequent years Imaï continued to make art for the world, often producing commissioned large-scale murals for fashion, show business, and upscale restaurants in both Japan and Europe – “entire ceilings and walls, square metre after square metre, as if he were constrained to fill the whole world”.7

Hisao Domoto Retrospective, The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto and Setagaya Art Museum, 2005, p. 182
2 IMAÏ Toshimitsu, Kyuryudo Art Publishing Co., Tokyo, 1975, p. 75
3 Michel Tapié on Domoto Hisao’s work, written for Domoto’s solo exhibition at the Minami Gallery, Tokyo, in 1960
4 Refer to 1
5 Refer to 2, p. 79
6 IMAÏ, Electa, Milano, 1998, p. 50
7 Refer to 6, p. 51