In the early 1950s as a young Japanese painter, Imai, discontent with the artistic trends of his homeland, travelled to Paris and thrust himself straight into the heart of Europe’s Informel movement. A personal encounter with the French critic Michel Tapié through his close friend, the artist Sam Francis, led Imai to quickly abandon his figurative practice in a wholehearted embrace of the expressionist process. The results were startling. A muddy palette was traded in for the violence of raw pigment. Derivative subject matters were replaced by a quest for the metaphysical in ever evolving compositions. Embracing Informel’s unbridled spontaneity, Imai picked up palette knives and mastered the latent potential of the drip.
Drawing on these rebellious acts, Plein Soleil exemplifies Imai’s work from the 1960’s, the period during which he mastered and developed his mature style following the early experimentation of the late 1950’s. It was during this decade that Imai sought to radically simplify his compositions, allowing bolder colours to take a further hold on his palette and introducing abstract forms to create stronger more arresting compositions, mirroring the developments in the Informel aesthetic and its affiliates as a whole. There is a particular similarity when comparing Imai’s work with the compositional development of Sam Francis’s work through the 1950’s and early 60’s. During this period, both artists use similarly strong compositional devices to anchor their increasingly wild and vigorous gestural paintwork.
These new Informel works by Imai particularly in the early 60’s captivated a bewildered Parisian media. Imai’s Japanese roots provided him a fresh aesthetic approach to Informel art that combined East Asian calligraphic abstraction with a European intellectual framework, setting him apart from his contemporaries in Paris. His success saw him represented by the leading art dealer of the time, Leo Castelli as well as being invited to show at the Venice Biennale in 1960. Indeed, 1962, the year of the present work, marks a critical moment for Imai. Recognized as an outstanding artist at the Fifth Exhibition of Japanese Contemporary Art in Tokyo, Imai was finally recognised at the highest international level, particular in the country he had left. This culminated in the acquisition of several paintings by the Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo, solidifying his place at the crossover of Eastern and Western modernism. Poet and critic Shuzo Takiguchi noted this power, describing Imai’s canvases as going “back to the primitive elements of Japanese art whose masterpieces formerly realized the perfect unity of signs and matter… Imai admits in his picture his sympathy for the magic of earth and fire of ancient Japanese potters… In the old craft of European painting Imai is going to accomplish a virginal magic” (IMAÏ Toshimitsu, Kyuryudo Art Publishing Co., Tokyo 1975, p. 79).
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