KAZUO SHIRAGA (1924-2008)
KAZUO SHIRAGA (1924-2008)
KAZUO SHIRAGA (1924-2008)
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This lot has been imported from outside of the UK … Read more A CENTURY OF ART: THE GERALD FINEBERG COLLECTION
KAZUO SHIRAGA (1924-2008)

Choryo (Jumping Dragon)

KAZUO SHIRAGA (1924-2008)
Choryo (Jumping Dragon)
signed in Japanese (lower left); signed, titled twice and dated in Japanese (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
76 1/4 x 102in. (193.9 x 259.2cm.)
Painted in 1994
McCaffrey Fine Art, New York.
Private Collection.
Private Collection, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2018.
New York, McCaffrey Fine Art, Kazuo Shiraga, 2011.
New York, Mnuchin Gallery, Kazuo Shiraga, 2015, p. 103 (illustrated in colour, pp. 84-85; detail illustrated in colour, pp. 86-87).
Special notice
This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

Brought to you by

Claudia Schürch
Claudia Schürch Senior Specialist, Interim Head of Department

Lot Essay

With its serpentine swirls of impasto dancing in vigorous splendour, Choryo (Jumping Dragon) (1994) is a monumental example of Kazuo Shiraga’s ‘foot paintings’. Across a white canvas more than 2.5 metres wide, thick swathes of blue, black, and white pigment collide and merge. Slicks of earthy ochre and maroon offset azure flashes at the painting’s heart. Dark spatters burst against the backdrop with centrifugal force. Using his trademark technique, Shiraga created the work from above, hanging from a rope and using his feet to manipulate pools of paint. Its loops and smears trace the drag of his heels and the grip and stamp of his toes. Black footprints can be seen to the lower left, where the artist’s signature is inscribed. Shiraga was a member of the Gutai movement that emerged in Japan in the mid-1950s. By abandoning traditional tools in favour of his own body, Shiraga plunged himself into the arena of the canvas, situating his work somewhere between painting and performance art.

Shiraga was introduced to contemporary Western art practices in 1951, when the third Yomiuri Independent Exhibition travelled to Osaka. He was particularly fascinated by the work of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. At a time when Japan was discovering a new identity in the years after the Second World War, he identified with their radical individualism. The Gutai artists—exhorted by their founder Jirō Yoshihara to ‘create what has never been done before’—understood matter and spirit as existing in dialogue, seeking to express their innermost selves through the collision of body and material. Shiraga dropped the use of brushes and palette knives in 1954, beginning to smear paint with his hands and fingers, and then, in a flash of inspiration, his feet. At first simply stepping on paint-covered paper on the floor, he soon hung a rope from his studio ceiling in order to launch himself energetically across large canvases, smearing and splashing paint in his wake. Shortly after this breakthrough, he performed the piece Challenging Mud for the first Gutai group exhibition in 1955, churning his whole body in a liquid mass of mud and unset concrete. This was in effect both a painterly action and a performance work, predating the ‘happenings’ that emerged in 1960s America.

Shiraga initially declined to title his foot paintings, believing that it would interfere with their reception. For practical reasons, from around 1958 he began to methodically name them after the 108 warrior outlaws of the fourteenth-century Chinese novel Suikoden (Water Margin). He admitted that these characters’ intense personalities—and the heroic and terrible extremes of their actions—informed his own all-out approach to the paintings. He often discussed the artistic struggle between material and body in martial, visceral terms, with violence and beauty closely intertwined. His Inoshishigari (Wild Boar Hunting) canvases of 1963 incorporated mounted boars’ hides splashed in blood-coloured paint. This aspect of Shiraga’s work has been understood to reflect the trauma of war, and a resistance to the militarist Japanese regime. If his paintings became more balletic and lush across the following decades—he also incorporated Buddhist titles and wheel motifs during the 1970s, after his ordination as a lay monk in the Tendai sect—they continued to evoke episodes of myth, valour and drama. The present work’s title, Choryo, translates as ‘jumping dragon’, complementing the sinuous power of the painting.

For all their suggestive grandeur, Shiraga’s paintings were driven solely by the immediate, carnal instincts of his body. His technique excluded premeditated design, second thoughts or retouching—a principle intrinsic to the traditional forms of calligraphy he had studied in his youth. The canvas was no longer a screen upon which the artist depicted an object or expressed a state of mind, but a site of raw, experiential bodily action. These ideas found early champions abroad. The French critic Michel Tapié collaborated with Shiraga on the first overseas Gutai exhibition at Martha Jackson Gallery, New York, in 1958, and Yves Klein’s Athropométries were inspired by his encounters with Gutai. Where Western ‘action painters’ maintained a certain remove from their various arenas, however—Pollock, for example, dripped from pierced paint tins, and Klein directed the action of his female models—Shiraga fused himself, body and soul, with the very fibre of his work. A triumphant leap into the unknown, Choryo (Jumping Dragon) exemplifies Shiraga’s adventurous spirit.

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