"Never imitate others! Make something that never existed!" Yoshihara Jiro’s mantra to the Gutai group acts as an injunction of innovation to which Kazuo Shiraga will stay true all along his life while inventing a unique practice fusing the Post-War trend towards abstraction and action painting.
In the aftermath of World War II the Gutai group members under the guidance and mentorship of Yoshihara Jiro broke with the conventions of traditional materials in search of new forms of expression and the ambition of narrative renewal in art. Liberating art from its sole material component they shared a visceral need to empower the creative process - the action of creating- as an equally important part to the artwork’s concrete result. In the context of artistic emulation Kazuo Shiraga gained immediate approval from his peers when he joined the association in 1955 and revealed to the group his first foot paintings elaborated in the summer 1954. Frustrated with the Japanese tradition pigment and glue based colors Shiraga started using oil paint for its textural smooth material properties as he describes the substance "as slippery, as uncatchable as a sea cucumber " (Kazuo Shiraga in an interview by Haryu Ichiro in 1973 reproduced in Kazuo Shiraga Six Decades, McCaffrey Fine Art, 2009, p. 62) . In a freed movement the artist developed in the mid-fifties a unique painterly practice that will become his trademark, encompassing at once elements of performance and painting, making him the leading figure of one of the most radical creative groups in the post war era. The artist positions the canvas horizontally on the floor and with the help of a rope suspended from the ceiling he starts spreading the oil paint freely with his feet elaborating an always unique composition that features a binary tension between control and release, consciousness and the invisible psyche in a battle between his body and the work. Painted in 1987, a time when Shiraga had acquired an international recognition independent and beyond the outreach of the Gutai group Dakusyia (Lot 41) offers a dynamic composition as the result of the artist’s mastery of his signature sliding movement across the canvas. His mature confidence further translates in the daring and complex combination of vivid yellow, bloody red, dark hues and subtly scattered blue adding colors as a new component to his earlier crimson lake monochrome paintings. 1971 marks a turning point in Shiraga’s life as he momentarily stopped painting for a year to pass a series of austere rites in order to become a Buddhist monk. After resuming painting the artist noticed a change in his painterly quality: Everybody complimented ”Your painting becomes clearer” and (…) “Your painting now feel so refreshing, they become very clean” . (From an oral History Interview by Kato Mizuho with Ikegami Hiroko (2007) reproduced in Kazuo Shiraga Six Decades, McCaffrey Fine Art, 2009, p. 72). Dakusyia’s poetic title evokes this new phase in Shiraga’s life and practice where spiritual activity through the recitation of sutras before starting to paint acts as a vital framework for the artist who believes that mind and body are inseparable. The title Dakusyia uses the same Chinese character as in the autumnal flower Manjushaka, a bright red lily. Well known in Japanese tradition for being featured in the famous poem “To Die in the Country” (1965) by Terayama Shuji, a contemporary of Shiraga, the flower floats towards a turbid river. It thus takes on a mysterious meaning, symbolising all together death and reborn transformation and often exemplifies the seasons changes. One can grasp the flower’s long thin petals in Shiraga’s incandescent transversal composition.
Fascinated with the work of Abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock that he discovered at the third Yomiuri Independent Exhibition in Osaka and influencing himself major Western artists such as Yves Klein who stayed fifteen months in Japan in 1952, Kazuo Shiraga is today recognised as a primary protagonist in the modern art landscape beyond limitations of east and west boarders.