A painter does not need a paint brush nor does a sculptor need tools. In 1955, artist Kazuo Shiraga and a new Japanese art group challenged ideas of how to approach art. Shiraga used the force of his own body to create statues out of mud and painted with his feet. What resulted were works unlike any other. They had within them a new perspective on the possibilities of art.
Gutai, meaning concreteness, was one of the vital art movements of post-war Japan. It was an exploration of materials and general expression. Founded in 1954 by artist Yoshihara, the group called to make art like nothing else. Yoshihara asked that all group members approach creation in previously unheard of ways. This allowed for incredible diversity and freedom to use performance or unusual methods. Painting and sculpture became robust, connected with the action that made it.
Shiraga was one of Gutai’s original members. While he had studied traditional art at Kyoto City Specialist School of Arts, Shiraga was more interested in exploring modern art. The idea of experiencing the art appealed to Shiraga in a way that traditional oil painting could not.
Breaking down the barrier between the act of creation, the work of art, and the viewing of it became a prime focus of the Gutai group. At the first Gutai show, artists presented the public with performance and destruction. Kazuo Shiraga revealed Challenge to Mud. He pushed and fought with clay into the shapes he intended. This resulted in visceral sculptures that challenge preconceived notions.
At a show in 1957, Shiraga unveiled the concept he had been developing for years. Suspended from the ceiling in a Pinocchio custom with impossibly long arms, he dragged, kicked, and danced across the paint and canvas below him. Titled Ultramodern Sanbaso, the work confounded many. One critic, wondering why he painted with his feet, quipped that he should cut off his hands.
However, this did not discourage Shiraga. Instead, he developed this method into his signature. He continued to work by guiding paint across the canvas with his feet. He would drip the paint onto the surface and hang from a rope to allow for freedom of movement. At times this was choreographed, at others it was spontaneous. It always resulted in works that were dramatic with barely contained bursts of energy.
In 1971, he became a Buddhist monk, but this did not halt his work. He continued to paint with his chosen tools well into his 80s. These paintings show that unorthodoxy is the essence of creation. Art in its raw form.
If you would like to see more work by Kazuo Shiraga, plan to visit the Dallas Museum of Art next year. They have an exhibition planned entitled Between Action and the Unknown: The Art of Kazuo Shiraga and Sadamasa Motonaga. It will open in February, 2015.
Kenny Ackerman is an Art Dealer in New York, specializing in Fine Art Paintings from 19th-21st century Europe and America. To buy or sell original paintings by artists we represent, contact Ackerman’s Fine Art here.