In the Far Eastern tradition calligraphy and therefore the brushstroke is believed to be an “imprint of the mind” - a visual sign of the artist’s psychological, spiritual and intellectual state of being. With a long history dating back three millennia, up to the early 20th century it was generally believed that this venerable art could not be “modernised”. However, Tenrai Hidai (1872-1933) who saw the potential for change founded the Calligraphy Art Society in 1933, which later evolved into the postwar avant-garde calligraphy movement.
Although not a member of the influential calligraphic group Bokujin-kai (Ink Human Society) founded in 1952, Sofu Teshigahara was an important independent avant-garde artist working in traditional media. As well as practicing avant-garde calligraphy, he was the headmaster of the Sogetsu school of experimental ikebana (flower arrangement). During the 1950s under his direction the Sogetsu Art Centre became an important venue for research and display of experimental ikebana, as well as staging lectures and demonstrations by visiting artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, Yoko Ono and John Cage. In the autumn of 1957 the French critic-dealer Michel Tapié visited Japan to promote the Informel movement and in the process added Japanese artists including the Gutai group and Sofu Teshigahara to his Informel register.