Following World War II, Japan regained a liberal atmosphere that was conducive to the pursuit of Modern Art; it was during this time that the Gutai Art Association emerged. Founded by Yoshihara Jiro in the summer of 1954 with 17 other like-minded artists in Ashiya City, Gutai sought to re-invent Japanese art using the vocabulary of Modern art. Their aesthetic was based on the holistic use of the materiality their media, colour, and form; the distinctive use of these elements reveals the versatility of the beauty intrinsic to abstraction. Soon after officially joining the Gutai Art Association in 1955, Motonaga was inspired by the group’s leader Jiro Yoshihara, to “create what no one has ever seen.”
In 1960, Motonaga signed a contract with Martha Jackson Gallery, a New York gallery specializing in Abstract Expressionism, also at Tapie’s recommendation; the following year, the gallery held a solo exhibition. Several years later in 1966 Motonaga finally traveled to New York for a year-long residency at the invitation of the Japan Society. When he arrived, Martha introduced him to a large art supply store allowing him to buy materials on the gallery’s credit. It was there, in the store that Willem de Kooning and Sam Francis (both also represented by Martha Jackson Gallery) purchased their materials, that Motonaga discovered acrylic paint. This new material opened up many possibilities and allowed him to begin experimenting with airbrushing techniques that ultimately had a dramatic impact on his style. His previous amorphous poured canvases evolved into more defined shapes with hard edges, playful colour and gradation allowed by this new technique. Work (Lot 75), painted in 1975 after Motonaga returned to Japan, demonstrates this style in its matured form. With its two anthropomorphic forms that appear to be jubilantly raising their fists in the air, this humorous composition recalls the artist’s earlier interest in painting cartoon-inspired forms prior to joining Gutai.
Motonaga’s devotion to allowing the materiality of his media speak with its own voice is apparent from his early days as a poor young artist in pursuit of creating “what no one has ever seen” through the display of his work as a widely renowned artist at the some of the world’s most prominent institutions.