Exhibitions

Kazuo Shiraga

28.08.2014 - 15.11.2014
Kazuo Shiraga
Hachikono-Ooji, 1984, oil on canvas, 130 x 162 cm
Axel Vervoordt Gallery is pleased to present the first solo exhibition of Gutai artist Kazuo Shiraga (1924-2008, Japan) in Hong Kong.

Shiraga's artistic quest is driven by the desire to materialize bodily and spiritual energy without denying the essential qualities of matter. This led him to invent his own form of action painting and live art happenings. In 1954, he decided to step onto a canvas with his bare feet and to paint by sliding across the canvas, holding on to a rope that was suspended from the ceiling. This technique was to become his artistic trademark. From the beginning of his career Shiraga’s philosophy and revolutionary techniques have been a great influence to many European and American artists, such as Yves Klein and Robert Motherwell.

In the performance "Challenging Mud" (1955) Shiraga dives into a pile of mud and sculpts it with his body. This was a ground-breaking attempt to replace the conventional notion of painting with the idea that the action itself generates art. Shiraga’s “painting” is a field of pure action. This idea not only makes him a predecessor of the development of happenings and of performance art, but also links his work to Abstract Expressionist painting, then prominent in the United States.

By radically abandoning the paintbrush and starting to paint with his feet, Shiraga eliminates deliberate composition – one of the fundamental elements of painting in a traditional sense – and consciousness from his work. The relation between the artist’s body, the paint and the canvas is direct and not hierarchical. He lets the unconscious power of the body dialogue with matter, take over the creative process and determine the result.

When he is painting, Shiraga ritually overcomes the self over and over again. He experiences what he calls his “shishitsu”, the driving force behind the shaping of the self. “Shishitsu” literally means “innate characteristics and abilities of individuals”. Our “shishitsu” is our ever evolving sensory psyche. It is like a pre-shaped sponge in our unconsciousness, absorbing our personal bodily and spiritual energies, holding them as memories and shaping us into who we are. According to Shiraga it should be everybody's quest in life to come into direct contact with his or her personal “shishitsu” and to express it in the fullest possible way.

Shiraga’s works are free of social criticism and political implication. His paintings can be appreciated by a pure act of seeing. Whether he painted with his feet or with tools which he adopted in later years, he imbued his canvas with his own “shishitsu”. There is the movement, energy, and spirit of the time recklessly spread all over the canvas.

Shiraga is one of the leading members of the Gutai Art Association, a Japanese post-war avant-garde movement (1954-1972). Gutai was centered around leader Jiro Yoshihara who encouraged the members to “be original” and to create something that has never been created before in a manner that has never been used before. It was the artists’ goal to start anew from a blank space after the disasters of the World War. The word gutai means “concreteness” or “embodiment”. This reflects the group’s strong interest in matter and in the creative process. Gutai artists delved into developing new processes of making artworks crisscrossing various artistic media and techniques. Each member of the group broke through the boundaries of the traditional definition of painting and sculpture. As much as they tried to respond to the climate of post-war Japan, their works still speak to us going beyond time and space.

In the past few years, Gutai has been frequently revisited by international museums, art historians, artists and collectors. With the recent international revaluation of the art historical importance and powerful visual impact of Gutai art, Kazuo Shiraga soon became one of the most important leading Gutai artist known today. His work is prominently present in the most important private and public collections from all over the world and is given special attention in every Gutai exhibition.

Kazuo Shiraga
Kazuo Shiraga
Kazuo Shiraga
Kazuo Shiraga
Kazuo Shiraga
Kazuo Shiraga
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