KEI HIRAGA (B.1936)
KEI HIRAGA (B.1936)

Fenetre (Window); Window

Details
KEI HIRAGA (B.1936)
Fenetre (Window); Window
signed 'key hiRaga' in English; dated '65' (middle right); titled and signed 'fenetre Key hiRaga' in English; signed and inscribed in Japanese; dated '65' (on the reverse)
signed 'key HiRaga' in English; dated '66' (upper right); signed 'KEY HIRAGA' in English; signed and inscribed in Japanese (on the reverse)
two oil on canvas
160 x 128.5 cm. (63 x 50 5/8 in.); &160.2 x 128.8 cm. (63 x 50 3/4 in.) (2)
Painted in 1965; & 1966
2 (2)
Provenance
Anon. Sale, Christie's Hong Kong, 29 May 2011, Lot 1513 & 1514
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Literature
(work dated 1965)
Bokushin Gallery, Collected Paintings of Key Hiraga, Tokyo, Japan, 2000 (exhibition view in 1966 illustrated, p. 10).
Exhibited
(work dated 1965)
Paris; Lyon, France Prague, Czeck Lausanne, Switzerland, Galerie Creuze, Le Figurative Narrative - Kei Hiraga Touring Solo Exhibition, 1966.

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Lot Essay

Born in 1936, Kei Hiraga graduated with a degree in Economics from the university. Despite not having received a formal educating in art, it did not stop him from persuading his natural talent for painting. In 1965, he went to France to develop his artist career. Tirelessly experimenting, Kei Hiraga's inventive painting format was a breakthrough that won him countless awards and invitations from Belgium, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Italy, and other international exhibitions. His unique painting style was the foundation of his career, and it earned him the reverence of a master in the artistic community. Following the end of the Second World War, western mainstream art was very much influenced by eastern ideology. As a result, the representational style had gradually shifted towards abstraction. Under this changing creative atmosphere, Kei Hiraga went through yet another artistic reincarnation - using the rich undertones of the Japanese traditional painting, he infused his works with western Modernist painting theories and cultivation. The picture plane was executed in frenzied brushwork that is closely akin to cursive calligraphy and graffiti. This is a leap from both eastern and western classical aesthetics on lines, colours, and composition. Using the symbolic charisma of abstract expressions as a response to the concurrent artistic movements in Europe and America, Kei Hiraga created a unique school of artistic style to call his own. With such monumental achievement, he is venerated in Europe and America as one of the most distinguish second-generation Japanese contemporary artist after L?onard Foujita.


Intangible Lines, Transforming Tones

The period between 1965 and 1977 was a crucial time for Kei Hiraga when he was solidifying his creative style in France. Line is his primary creative element in the 60s. By carefully examining the different aspects in Window (Blue and Red), and Window (Yellow Figure) (Lot 72) in the catalogue, it is evident that despite the economic use of lines and colours, the details in the work are sophisticated and the symbols are intense. It can be considered as one of the most consummate works that can represent his entire artistic career in the 60s. The line technique in this work is composed mainly of score marks and corresponding additional brushwork that play with the intricacies of the negative and positive spaces. In Cubist painter Pablo Picasso's groundbreaking work Guernica (Fig. 1), both hidden and visible surfaces are presented to the viewer simultaneously in the same plane - this is the essence of Cubism. Kei Hiraga uses interweaving lines to make visible what is supposed to be hidden behind objects. It concisely solves the same problem that Cubists tried to tackle by re-arranging the different sides of a three dimensional object on the same plane. Another notable feature of Kei Hiraga's paintings is that the crisscrossing lines infuse the otherwise line-dominant painting with multitude of colourful effects. This treatment is often associated with the gradient washes in Japanese ink painting. Despite the sparse use of colours, the fantastic variations in the tones of the black lines compose a network of rich visual elements that mesmerizes the audience.

Meaning in Symbols

Other than lines, symbol is an integral creative element in Kei Hiraga's works. Every object, body, or entity that appears and interacts with each other represent Key Higara's intentions to narrate a story or orchestrate an event in the picture. The wheel-like symbol represents the female reproduction organ. The two symbols, ?? and www, represent the secondary sex characteristics of the female body. By connecting the two sex characteristics together, the artist successfully represents the female body with these symbols. Another remarkable aspect of Kei Hiraga's work is that, despite dividing the picture plane into sections, the artist put the symbols for the male hand and nose across different panels. A strong sense of coherence is achieved across the entire picture plane. Such effect greatly enhances the spatial richness and visual events of the picture. The symbols that resemble French texts further strengthen the narrative power of the piece for the audience to decode and translate on their own. The colours of red and blue surrounding the female figure invoke the independent creative spirit of foreign countries.


When New York Museum of Modern Art curator William Lieberman visited the Kei Hiraga's studio in 1965, he immediately acquired the piece Window (Fig. 2) for the New York MoMA permanent collection. The two pieces that are offered in this auction come from the same historically significant series. Upon careful examination, every individual frame tells a different story with its own distinct content. These critical works also provide us with a window to understand the progression of his work into the 70s. Kei Hiraga once expressed that he was heavily inspired by Sir Alfred Hitchcock's movie Rear Window. He also enjoyed four-panels comic strips, and Picasso's Guernica had a powerful impact on him. These are the elements that inspired the creation of his Window series. It is also evident that his excellent painting techniques can rival Cy Twombly and Jean Dubuffet. The elaborate network of intersecting lines and details in the sophisticated symbolic and textual vocabulary not only deeply influenced the development of Japanese contemporary artists in the 1980s, they also become one of the most radical painting languages coming out of east Asian contemporary art in the 1960s.
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