Born in Osaka in 1925, Yasuo Sumi joined Gutai Group in 1955 and participated in many important exhibitions in Japan as well as abroad, including the 45th edition of Venice Biennale in 1993. Inspired by Shozo Shimamoto’s theory of “execution of paintbrushes”, Sumi constantly seek new ways of artistic creation, experimented to advance the expressivity of oil, and extricated himself from the limitation of rules and existing boundaries. Like other Gutai artists, YasuoSumi incorporated different painting techniques and various tools to hone diverse ways to express his freedom and release his unconsciousness with oil paints. Sumi was well-known for his famous declaration, “When I create my works, my feelings are a mixture of yakekuso (desperation), fumajime (absence of seriousness) and charanporan (irresponsibility). Yakekuso is for me the condition of complete spiritual freedom... Fumajime is the refusal of the past… At last, for charanporan I mean ‘the return to the real human shape’.”
Sumi is well-known for his use of various objects, including combs, vibrators, ladles, buckets, Sorobans (Japanese abacuses),traditional Japanese paper umbrellas, and Geta sandals (Japanese wooden footwear), to create unique strokes that let the viewer identify his works. He employed umbrella or abacus to apply colours, so that the resulting lines displaying a kind of mechanical quality from the characteristics of the tools; at the same time the lines are full of rhythms resulting from the unconscious mind of the artist. Sumi’s work is like a sheet of music, a dramatic and magnificent symphony created by vibrant yet harmonious rhythms of vivid colours and explicit textures of paints (Fig. 1).
Works (Lot 76) fully reflects Sumi Yasuo’s creative hallmarks together with all the forceful vitality of his works. The artist uses yellow paint for the background, and then green and red lines on the margin which scroll out like rattan and diffuse outwards to power the Japanese-style abacus. This produces an open effect at the image periphery and conceals the starting or ending points of the lines (Fig. 3). Tinged with black paint, the abacus meanwhile churns out a smooth swirling texture at its centre, and in its expansive organic curves, the abacus’ wooden beads spin out youthful lines that lose their balance. Finally, the artist gently draws a wooden stick charged with a liquid solvent across the picture surface and, where the stick passes, the black paint dissolves, breaking through the viewer’s established certainties as to the centre of the picture. At the same time, the image surface is subjected to a blackboard drawing-style of rough summary white lines that strike a stark contrast with the main black lines and thereby achieve a strong visual impact.
Sumi Yasuo’s creative method is not just an addition, but also a reduction, yet one which is also destructive in nature. His technique of dissolving paint causes it to reveal more complex levels, fine perforations, wear and tear, and layers of varying paint thickness in which other pigments intermix. Yasuo Sumi once described the results of his painting, "Some rough lines will therefore be there, but for me, the consequence of this is that people cannot just use force to bring forth a painting."