Lot 623
  • 623

Morita Shiryu

400,000 - 600,000 HKD
937,500 HKD
bidding is closed


  • Morita Shiryu
  • Ho (Embrace)
  • aluminum flake pigment, lacquer and glue on paper laid on board
signed and titled in Japanese, marked with one artist's seal, and dated 1964 on the label affixed to the reverse, framed


Galerie Brusberg, Hannover
Klaus Gerhard Collection
Private European Collection
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1988


Germany, Hannover, Galerie Brusberg, November 1965, cat. illustration no. 22

Catalogue Note

The Melodies of Abstraction
Morita Shiryū, Inoue Yūichi & Tsutaka Waichi

In the Eastern tradition of calligraphy, or sho, the brushstroke is understood as “an imprint of the mind” – a sign of the artist’s intellectual, psychological, and spiritual state of being. As Alexandra Munroe notes, the tradition of calligraphy is thus akin to the foundations of Western abstract art that espouses a formal and conceptual rather than real or descriptive image; as such, “the basis for practicing calligraphy as a form of modern art was already in place”.1 In the post-war period, the works of certain Japanese artists conceived of calligraphy as “a metaphysical act which uses the character as a ‘site’ (basho) to manifest “the dynamic movement of life” (inochi no yakudo) – the ultimate rhythm of “absolute nothingness” beyond intellect, emotion, or ego”.2 Their works hover at the edge of painting and calligraphy, line and stroke, content and form, control and sensuality.

Ho (Lot 623) hails from Morita Shiryū’s iconic oeuvre of powerfully gestural ichijisho (single character paintings). Morita’s interpretation of the word 抱 “ho”, meaning “embrace” or “hold”, whirls within a majestic vortex of abstraction, floating with a deft lightness of touch that embodies the ephemerality of human interaction. Executed with lacquer and aluminum flake pigment on paper, the piece demonstrates Morita’s virtuosic mastery of the medium by preserving the aesthetic, rigor and spiritual essence of traditional Asian calligraphy while being incontestably contemporary and international. Under Morita’s leadership, the avant-garde calligraphy group Bokujin-kai (ink society) and its journal Bokubi partook in extended intellectual and artistic exchange with Western artists such as Franz Kline, Mark Rothko, and Mark Tobey, constructing a dynamic forum for artistic discussion between the East and West. In 1954, the Museum of Modern Art in New York presented the historical “Abstract Japanese Calligraphy” exhibition, which marked Japanese avant-garde calligraphy’s official ascension onto the international stage.

In contrast to Morita’s almost illegible script, Koto (Lot 624), which features the character 琴 “Koto”, meaning “zithern” – a traditional Far Eastern musical instrument akin to a harp, is executed in Inoue Yūichi’s signature kaisho (square or printed) style. Rendered in colossal strokes that quiver with sublime internal tremors and intricate rivulets of ink, Koto evokes the transcendent dexterity and lightness of music and sound. The essence of the character heightened by its gestural placement: Koto’s strokes cross over the edge of the pictorial frame, defying the traditional rules of calligraphy and inducing a dynamic vitality and daring weightlessness. Alongside Morita, who was the most visible member of the Bokujin-kai, the more withdrawn Inoue also received swift international acclaim, exhibiting alongside the likes of Jackson Pollock, Yves Kline, Hans Hartung and Pierre Soulages at the São Paolo Biennials (1957, 1959 and 1961) and documenta II in Kassel (1959).

Albeit not depicting kanji, Tsutaka Waichi’s oeuvre of soft gradated colours and lines nevertheless still exudes a radiance and subtle poetry with an austere calligraphic cadence. A member of the Osaka-based collective Gendai Bijutsu Kondan Kai, or Genbi, of whom Morita was a former member, Tsutaka was unusual in his choice of European-style oil paint, thus transposing the techniques of traditional calligraphy into a materially foreign environment. Characterized by precise planning and artisan techniques, Tsutaka’s method involves him meticulously choosing an explicit type of brush for a particular type of line, even devising a sprayer that is instrumental in producing a specific organic effect. Fickle God (Lot 625) features Tsutaka’s signature calligraphic lines that echo against broader brushstrokes in a melodic and rhythmical tension, and swift sharp streaks that intermingle with soft blades of colour. Commenting on Tsutaka’s work, the poet Yoshiaki Inui wrote that “Tsutaka’s work is like a musical composition. Instead of the parts making up the whole, the composition gives form to the parts”. Such a statement echoes the philosophy of kanji and calligraphy and awards new meaning and perspective to the global ontology of abstract composition.

1 Alexandra Munroe, Japanese Art After 1945: Scream Against the Sky, Harry N. Abrams Inc., New York, 1994, p. 129
2 Ibid, p. 131