KEY HIRAGA (1936-2000)
KEY HIRAGA (1936-2000)


KEY HIRAGA (1936-2000)
signed and dated ‘Key Hiraga 65’ (lower left); signed in Japanese, titled ?fenetre? and signed ‘Key Hiraga’ (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
130 x 96.5 cm. (51 1/8 x 38 in.)
Painted in 1965
Jean-Marie Drot Collection, France
Art Contemporain I - Collection Jean-Marie Drot, Cornette
de Saint Cyr, Paris, 9 June 2016, lot 11
Acquired from the above sale by the present owner

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Shanshan Wei
Shanshan Wei

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Lot Essay

When New York Museum of Modern Art curator William Lieberman visited Key Hiraga's studio in 1965, he immediately acquired The Window for the New York MoMA permanent collection. The work offered in this auction comes from the same historically significant series. Hiraga began creating the Fenetre series in 1964, around the time when he relocated from Tokyo to Paris. During this transition to a new urban milieu, he painted what he saw around him, inspired by the people and objects of the city. As a self-taught artist, Hiraga advanced his technique by investigating individual emotion and action, depicting his findings in a tangle of contour lines woven into expressionistic forms. This early style is likened to Twombly and Dubuffet, who also admired the idea of creativity based on the non-conscious and calligraphic use of line.
In his Fenetre works, Hiraga carves his canvas up into smaller windows, within which he creates a miniature scene. The painting within a painting' compositional style leads the viewer into an unknown, dreamlike space—as if we are 'peeping' through different kinds of hidden windows floating in midair. Like most of his early works, Fenetre , is predominantly black and white, and he relies heavily on line to convey his narrative. The lower portion of the canvas, with its bold patterns and fields of color, foreshadows his heavily saturated and emphatic painting style of the 1970’s.
Within Fenetre the artist creates seven windows depicting different scenes. Some cross over into neighboring windows, creating a larger story, while others are contained within their own borders. The figures within these windows are positioned at different orientations— some are rotated 90 or 180 degrees from the viewer. This difference in positioning forwards the idea that each window is its own story, completely independent of the larger canvas. These scenes range from the mundane, daily routine to more suggestive, complicated themes. In the lower right portion, an outstretched arm reaches across two windows onto a female form outlined in red. A word bubble, filled with illegible script, extends from a disembodied head, which strengthens the narrative power of the piece for the audience to decode and translate on their own. The window above these is executed completely in contour lines, and depicts a family around a dinner table, completely unaware of the scene playing out below them. The smallest window is completely darkened, where a solitary figure stands with wide eyes. He appears anxious, trapped within the confines of his own home, and small, empty word bubbles drift up from his mouth. With this complex composition and emotive style, Hiraga weaves an urban tale of human interaction and separation.
The artist’s Fenetre series are an homage to Japanese ukiyo-e, which depicted the worldly pleasures of urban life in Japan from the 17th to he 19th century. These small woodcuts often portrayed scenes from an aerial perspective, as if the viewer is peering in from the outside. Hiraga takes this notion of voyeurism one step farther, by employing principles of Cubism as well. His use of contour line allows him to present both hidden and visible surfaces in the same plane, just as his Fenetre composition allows him to present a public and private view of the lives of individuals.
During his tenure in Paris, Hiraga moved away from calligraphic line and abstract figures towards colorful realism and figuration. His composition also became bolder, as he depicted increasingly erotic scenes. This later work, with its flattened, emphasized forms and bold colors can be seen as a precursor to the Superflat movement, embodied by the work of Takashi Murakami. Despite this transformative maturation, what remains throughout Hiraga’s work, which began with his Fenetre series, is his fixation on human desire and interaction. These paintings allowed Hiraga to investigate the individual both emotionally and physically, and depict humans in their most vulnerable and intimate states.

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