Born in 1902 in Seoul under Japanese rule, Takeo Yamaguchi was a pioneering master of abstraction whose discreet yet far-reaching influence was critical in shaping the post-war Japanese and Korean avant-garde. In the 1950s and 1960s, a period when the Japanese scene was dominated by Art Informel and Abstract Expressionism, Yamaguchi was alone in his individualistic pursuit of austere formal minimalism – one that resulted in a striking aesthetic of pared down shapes, thick organic textures, and a signature palette of black, ochre yellow, and Venetian red. Unlike the flat surfaces of the American Color Field painters, Yamaguchi’s heavy impasto possessed a palpable sculptural presence, articulating a profound emphasis on tangible perception and the structural integrity of physical reality. Yamaguchi’s works were seen by the West to marry Minimalism’s formal reduction and Art Informel’s tactile materiality and found immediate recognition. Yamaguchi represented Japan at the Sao Paolo and Venice Biennales in the mid-1950s, and in 1959, the same year Yellow Eyes
was executed, a similar work by Yamaguchi was displayed prominently on the ground floor rotunda at the Guggenheim’s grand inaugural exhibition, attesting to the artist’s international status and importance. Created at the apex of the artist’s career, the quintessential Yellow Eyes
represents the most archetypal and iconic of Yamaguchi’s distinctive paintings, exuding a quiet yet alluring breadth of scale that instills a potent feeling of tangible existence. Comparable works from the same period of the artist's career are treasured in the world's most renowned museum collections, including New York's Museum of Modern Art and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.
Notwithstanding the international acclaim, Yamaguchi played a direct role in nurturing – often financially as well as artistically – the young frontiers of the Asian avant-garde. Apart from being universally loved and respected by his students at the Musashino University of Art in Japan where he taught for two decades, Yamaguchi’s influence extended to Korea: amongst his protégés were Kim Whanki, to whom Yamaguchi supplied brushes and oils during difficult times, and Lee Ufan, who openly acknowledged Yamaguchi’s influence on his work. Yamaguchi’s quiet yet trailblazing vision played a critical role in defining the decisive post-war avant-garde of the Far East, finding resonance in Mono-ha’s emphasis on nature and materiality as well as Dansaekhwa’s minimalist process-based aesthetic in the 1970s.