Born in 1928, Domoto Hisao was a member of the highly influential family in the art scene in Kyoto, Japan. His uncle Domoto Insho was a master of Japanese painting (nihonga), and naturally, he was accordingly well-versed in traditional art, and his creations elicited glittering acclaim at Japan Fine Arts Exhibition (Niten) and garnered much attention. However, the atmosphere of Kyoto, dominated by its conservative authorities, made him feel restrictive. He yearned for greater freedom of expression, and so succumbed to the allure of the new world of post-war France’s brimming creative force.
In 1955, Domoto Hisao’s dream was to go to Paris to embark on the study of oil painting, though, as he well knew, this was a completely different artistic realm from Japanese painting. Oil’s unique materiality and rich colours entranced him, and his paintings of this period exhibit a bounteous experimental enthusiasm. Toshimitsu Imai introduced him to Michel Tapié, who became an admirer of his work. A rising star in the Art Informel school in Paris, Hisao not only held a successful solo exhibition in 1957 at Galerie Stadler, but in 1958, and in 1959 respectively received First Prize in des Jeunes Artistes étrangers and the Lissone International Art Exhibition Award in Italy, all of which gradually brought him recognition in Europe.
Domoto Hisao once mentioned in an interview how, shortly after he went to Paris, he befriended Sam Francis from the US west coast, whose friendship exercised such a major influence over him.
Francis' love of Japanese art and oriental elements in his work inspired Domoto Hisao (Fig. 1), but also led him to understand that he would ultimately have to revert to the Japanese aesthetic and tap into his own cultural heritage. Furthermore, Joan Mitchell, who was committed to painting freehand brushwork, also helped him to comprehend the commonalities of Eastern and Western art (Fig. 2).
However, unlike the pursuits of the modern Western art of painting, the pursuit of classical oriental painting values spatial layout and perceptible but invisible "energy flow (Qi)". Conversant with both cultural contexts, Domoto Hisao dedicated himself to developing an independent style, constantly seeking innovation, while still retaining the delicate oriental spirit, yet also striving to transcend the emphasis of Japanese painting on decorative aspects.
In the late 1950s, Domoto Hisao shifted his focus more towards forceful expression, with bold use of up and down lines and bursts of colour swirling in a picture charged with intense dynamism, a sense of extemporaneous speed, and an epic, juggernaut momentum. Untitled (Lot 81) seems to contain a flowing energy that radiates out from the centre in all directions, like water splashing and fire blazing, compact, but with a sense of overall structure. He piles up thick stacks of colour and uses thin colours splashed to stagger with blank spaces to create a visual tension that tugs between passion and order, and generates a kinetic energy that both visibly and palpably impacts viewers’ minds.
In the work Work 1960 – 15 (Lot 82), oil impasto expresses a strong, thick texture that indicates the artist's exploration of materiality. He arcs lines to build up a dynamic space that invokes ocean waves in the viewer’s imagining, the kind of energy that is in flux between clouds - even between immense galactic nebulae. His concise and elegant use of linked, coagulated colours and his swirling rendition are vaguely reminiscent of Hokusai's famous work (Fig. 3). With full but bounding brush marks, Domoto Hisao is relentless in his pursuit of force, while darkness in the form of ink graphically reveals the thinking and emotional ways of the Orient. His views about and replication of the universe and calligraphic stroke style, together with his obsession with "roundness", all echo Sengai Gibon’s painted circles, and are pregnant with the infinite possibilities opened up by early chaos. This thought-provoking expression of Zen perhaps also indicates his gradual gravitation toward minimalist geometric abstraction.