Lot 616
  • 616

Maekawa Tsuyoshi

700,000 - 1,000,000 HKD
1,500,000 HKD
bidding is closed


  • Maekawa Tsuyoshi
  • Untitled
  • oil and burlap on canvas
signed in Japanese and English, and dated 1963 on the reverse, framed


Lads Gallery, Osaka
Private American Collection
Acquired by the present owner from the above

Catalogue Note

The Contortionist
Maekawa Tsuyoshi

Every human being is born and given life for the purpose of putting their own stamp on the world, and on history. Every artist, I believe, must by nature be a pioneer.
– Maekawa Tsuyoshi

Exhibiting Maekawa Tsuyoshi’s signature roaring pleats of rough burlap, Untitled (Lot 616) and Untitled (A41) (Lot 617) are archetypal of the iconic aesthetic that instantly gained Maekawa acclaim as one of Yoshihara Jiro’s favourites amongst the second-generation Gutai artists. The singular method involves the artist weaving and gluing spiral-shaped pleats that jut out, at once organically and architecturally, creating curving pockets and lines reminiscent of the patterns in ancient Jomon earthenware. Coloured enamel is then poured over the textured surface, which together with the coarse burlap material results in a raw, primitive sense of power along with a paradoxical luxurious sense of graceful regality. Positioned at the liminal spaces between abstraction and figuration, painting and sculpture, Maekawa’s paintings contain traces of nature such as branches, leaves and water currents, as well as cultural iconographic signs like crosses, columns and grids. Yuling Wang writes: “If we imagine looking at the works from a birds-eye view, the burlap bumps resemble topographical lines, all kinds of fields, [or] the Nazca Lines, or fingerprints”.1

Created in 1963 and 1965 respectively, the present two lots hail from Maekawa’s brilliant early Gutai years following his first solo exhibition at the Gutai Pinocotheca in 1963. In 1959, even before he officially joined Gutai as a full-fledged member, Maekawa exhibited his burlap works at the 8th Gutai exhibition at the Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art. In Maekawa’s own words, “[e]verything started with the exhibition” as Yoshihara was deeply impressed by the originality and aesthetic power of Maekawa’s works. While Italian artist Alberto Burri stuck burnt and ripped scraps of cloth onto his canvas, Maekawa’s method of cutting, folding and sewing brought to life the unique sculptural quality and expressive potential of cloth and fabric, coaxing out an extraordinary sense of authority and structural eloquence. Maekawa used burlap throughout his career, manipulating them into intuitive and commanding compositions that never diminish in their visual and visceral confrontations to the viewer.

With their slashing teeth-like arcs and swelling tidal lines and grooves, the two pieces reveal the beauty and tenacity of material that fully allows nature’s inherent rhythms to pulse through, conveying a sense of timeless dynamic vitality. Their simple yet rich earthy hues are delivered by staining, dripping or splashing in a physical, Pollock-esque method, resulting in poured color fields that allow the pigment to flow, expand and swell organically into the spaces between the bumps and crevices. With Maekawa, however, color never overpowers the background texture or skeletal structure of the lines, but rather complements and emphasizes the versatile materiality of burlap. Striking and seductive, verging on the border of the grotesque, Maekawa’s writhing extortionist aesthetic offers not easy soft harmony but the terrible beauty of matter itself, an ode to the true legendary Gutai spirit in post-war Japanese art.

Yuling Wang, “The Paintings of Tsuyoshi Maekawa: Gutai and Beyond”, in exh. cat. Tsuyoshi Maekawa: Energy Extortionist, Whitestone Gallery, 2015, p. 8