Kazuo Shiraga (1924-2008)
Kazuo Shiraga (1924-2008)
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Kazuo Shiraga (1924-2008)

Chigakusei Tekkyoshi

Kazuo Shiraga (1924-2008)
Chigakusei Tekkyoshi
signed in Japanese and dated '1961' (lower right); signed again, titled in Japanese and dated again 'Shiraga 1961' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
51 3/8 x 76 3/8 in. (130.5 x 194 cm.)
Painted in 1961.
Collection of Rodolphe Stadler, Paris
His sale; Christie’s, Paris, 17 October 2018, lot 12
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Toulouse-Labège, Centre régional d'Art contemporain Midi-Pyrenees and Toulouse, Musee d'Art Moderne et de la Creation Contemporaine, Kazuo Shiraga, June-September 1993, p. 157, pl.15 (illustrated).
New York, Dominique Levy Gallery, Body and Matter: The Art of Kazuo Shiraga and Satoru Hoshino, January-April 2015, pp. 92-93, pl. 25 (illustrated in color).
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Ana Maria Celis
Ana Maria Celis

Lot Essay

Resounding with energy, action and spontaneity, Chigakusei Tekkyoshi embodies the avant-garde spirit of the Japanese pioneering artist Kazuo Shiraga. Painted directly with the artist’s feet as he suspended himself above the canvas from a rope hanging from the ceiling, the painting represents a coming together of the central tenants of post-war abstraction and performance art. Thick swirls of intense, fiery red and sizzling yellow blend with decadent strokes of black that swathe the entirety of the pure white canvas. At the outer edges, drips and splatters of pigment signal the impulsiveness of Shiraga’s movement. The direction of the paint is unpredictable but determined, reflecting the motion of the feet and the swiftness of the painting’s execution. Raw human energy in combination with the lavish amount of oil paint used creates an enhanced sense of the visceral: in texture and colour Chigakusei Tekkyoshi is visually evocative of heat and blood, and simultaneously is a direct portrayal of the real traces of live action, and of struggle, motion and force.

Chigakusei Tekkyoshi is named after one of the 108 Liangshan heroes in the fourteenth century Chinese classical novel, Shuihu Zhuan (Water Margin). As a teenager, Shiraga read his father's collection of Water Margin books and was fascinated by the rich variety of characters and storylines, devouring the volumes through his adulthood, during which he still carefully kept the series on shelves in his collection. The story is remarkable for the degree of violence it depicts and serves as a conceptual frame for understanding the paintings in this series. Water Margin was Shiraga’s first series of work, which he began in 1958, in which he titled his abstract paintings after some of the 108 heroes. It was also his first series of paintings showcased in Europe. Painted in 1961, Chigakusei Tekkyoshi is a relatively early work in Shiraga’s oeuvre, and iconic for his visceral use of charred black and blood red. It is identical in scale and ambition to Chikatsusei Maunkinshi, 1960, also from the Water Margin series and now housed in the permanent collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Chigakusei Tekkyoshi dates from a highly significant time for the artist. 1962 was the year in which Shiraga was given his first solo show outside Japan, at the Galerie Stadler in Paris. The gallery owner, Rodolphe Stadler, had first introduced Shiraga’s work to Europe 1959, when he included his work in the collective exhibition Metamorphisme. Shiraga and Stadler continued to work together until the gallery closed in 1991. Chigakusei Tekkyoshi, which the dealer kept in his personal collection for a number of years, marks a decisive turning point for this innovative artist’s career. It represents the start of a long collaboration and lasting friendship with Stadler during which time Shiraga’s work became well-known and widely lauded, resonating with audiences in Japan as well as Europe and America.

The Spanish artist Antonio Saura, who was a contemporary of Shiraga’s and also showed with Galerie Stadler, has recalled how memorable Shiraga’s performance and painting process was, and provides an indication of how Chigakusei Tekkyoshi would have been made: “After a few minutes of reflection in front of a small altar, and having separately deposited several oil colours on the white canvas on the floor, the Japanese painter Shiraga, in bare feet, attached to a rope hanging from the ceiling, began to dance on the oily material with rapid, rhythmic and precise movements” (A. Saura, “Shiraga ne peint pas avec les pieds” in Kazuo Shiraga, exh. cat., Refectoire des Jacobins, Toulouse, 1993).

In 1956, Shiraga described the seminal moment that he discovered the expressive and dramatic potential that he found using this unusual method of painting. “When, on discovering my true nature, I decided to cast off all the existing uniforms and be naked, figuration shattered into fragments and I dropped my painter’s knife which broke in two. [...] One day I swapped my knife for a piece of wood which I rejected out of impatience. I tried with my bare hands, with my fingers. Then, convinced I needed to be even bolder, I went even further and that is how I came to feet. That was it! Painting with the feet” (K. Shiraga, quoted in “L’Acte Meme”, in 1910-1970 Japon des Avant-gardes, exh. cat., Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1986, p. 300). In 1957 he performed Ultramodern Sanbaso in a gallery in Osaka, a highly theatrical piece, involving elaborate costumes and staging. Dressed in a red suit, he suspended himself by a rope from the ceiling, and, dangling above a piece of paper lying on the floor, began to manipulate oil paint onto it. This unity of performance, action and painting came to define Shiraga’s career.

Chigakusei Tekkyoshi is a powerfully visual expression of avant-garde thinking during one of the most artistically experimental periods of the twentieth century. In being the first artist to abandon traditional tools in order to use his own body, Shiraga demonstrates a unique vision as well as an unwavering courage.

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