It is important to avoid an ethnocentric vision of the world, and the belief that the actions taking place in the United States by the pioneers of Abstract Expressionism during the 1950s was at the time that only stone brought to the great edifice of the history of art. At the same period that Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning were revolutionizing the approach to painting in the West, a group of Japanese artists were developing a practice that was just as essential on the other wide of the world. Member of the most avant-garde and radical artistic association in the history of Japan, the "Gutaï Bijutsu-Kyokai", Kazuo Shiraga elaborated at the beginning of the 1950s a philosophy and a technique which made him not only one of the most eminent representatives of the group but also one of the Asian artists who founded a following. The conjunction of gu (instrument) and taï (body), praising the reconciliation between body and paintbrush, Gutaï itself came from Zerokaï, a movement established a few years earlier by Shiraga with the aim of creating an art free of all intention and convention.
By placing his works flat on the floor and using his feet to spread thick layers of paint in impressive tangled forms, Shiraga established a new relationship with the work. "I wanted to paint as though I was on a battlefield. Paint until exhaustion, until I collapsed" he said. This total engagement of the body and of the mind is particularly present in Takao. But the work is not only about violence, it is also about symbiosis, combining the most contemporary techniques of "happenings" and performance with the ancestral tradition of calligraphy.
Kazuo and Fujiko Shiraga in the artist's studio in 1960 © courtesy Amagasaki Cultural Center and Hisao Shiraga
The 8th Gutai Art exhibition, Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art, 1959 Shiraga at center © the former members of the Gutai Art Association, courtesy Ashiya City Museum of Art and History
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