Jiro Yoshihara became one of the most influential figures in postwar Japanese art. In addition to being an art critic, newspaper and journal contributor, in 1954 he founded the avant-garde Gutai Art Association with 16 initial members. At the time of his death in 1972 (and resulting dissolution of the group), the group had expanded to 59 members. With his famous statement “Do what has never been done before!” he urged the young Gutai artists to experiment with new ways of creating art, resulting in dresses made of lightbulbs, bottles containing pigment being hurled at large canvases on the floor, an artist leaping through paper screens, and another painting with his feet. A generation older than the other Gutai members, he also led the group’s commitment to forging international links with avant-garde artists, critics and curators around the world, with the intention of exposing Gutai to an international audience.
Yoshihara grew up in the prosperous town of Ashiya near Osaka and was mentored by the artists Jiro Kamiyama and Tsuguharu Fujita (1886-1968) following their return from spells in Paris. In his own work, he experimented with a number of modernist styles before developing into a gestural abstract painter in the 1950s. In the 1960s towards the end of his life, he began his works involving large circles on a monochrome background, for which he has become most well-known. Deceptively simple, Yoshihara’s enso circles stem from the Zen tradition which combines painting, calligraphy and meditation.