The Abstract Alchemist
At once ethereral yet paradoxically rustic, presenting incandescent hues of pink, blue and yellow whilst also exhibiting smouldering smudges across the metallic surface, Work is archetypal of Yamazaki Tsuruko’s enduring preoccupation with the unique properties of metal mediums. Yamazaki was one of Yoshihara Jiro’s first students and the only female artist who remained a member of the Gutai Art Association from its founding to its disbandment. Up until recently, Yamazaki remained one of the group’s most obscure and least discussed members and is only recently beginning to receive renewed attention and acclaim. From her beginning years as an artist, Yamazaki favoured using metal mediums such as tin and zinc because of its reflective and malleable qualities, and used dye, lacquer and thinner to create fluid streaks and gradations of radiant and luminescent colour. Her resulting singular aesthetic, which brings out the base materiality of metal as well as the “damage of time and destruction” of material celebrated in the Gutai manifesto, is testament to the artist’s trailblazing investigations into chemical and physical transformations well ahead of her time.
Born in 1925 in Ashiya, Hyogo, Yamazaki attended a lecture by Yoshihara Jiro in the City of Ashiya in 1946 and began to study under him in the following year. In 1954 she became a founding member of the Gutai Art Association and remained in the group until its dissolution in 1972; her solo exhibition at the Gutai Pinacotheca was held in 1963. In the 1950s, when French critic Michel Tapie encountered her works, he suggested that she paint on canvas, because metal was not sufficiently durable. Switching to canvas for some time, Yamazaki nevertheless returned to metal, which allowed her to continue her rigorous and decades-long engagement with the properties of and reactive relationships between metal, paint, colour and reflective surfaces – investigations that predated postmodern explorations into sight, cognition, and the real and the virtual.