Lot Content

Global notice COVID-19 Important notice

Work C.p 96

Work C.p 96
oil on paper
79.5 x 54 cm. (31 1/4 x 21 1/4 in.)
Painted in 1961
Private Collection, Asia

Brought to you by

Jessica Hsu
Jessica Hsu

Check the condition report or get in touch for additional information about this

Condition report

If you wish to view the condition report of this lot, please sign in to your account.

Sign in
View condition report

Lot Essay

This season, Christie's is pleased to present a collection of eleven works by the pioneering Japanese artist Yamada Masaaki. These pieces span the full breadth of the artist's Work Series, the longest stylistic period within the artist's career and one that is widely recognized as the core of Yamada's oeuvre.

A member of the postwar generation, Yamada dedicated his entire life and career to exploring the most fundamental elements of art and the visual experience, producing a body of work that almost singlehandedly traces the evolution of 20th century painting. All of Yamada's works are meticulously catalogued and titled by series and number in the chronological order of their completion: A for the 1940s, B for the 50s, C for the 60s and so on. According to the copious notes that Yamada made over the course of his lifetime, the Work Series represented a "combination of accumulated things and time… carried out with reference to the meaning of painting." His practice of numbering his works in sequence reinforces Yamada's vision, in which each of his paintings is only one part of a greater whole.

Viewing his works in order, we can see the process of his development and approach to painting in a manner that echoes Clement Greenberg's theory of the natural development of art, in which illusionistic painting evolves towards the abstract and conceptual. Early compositions such as Work B.216 (Lot 482) feature rectangular planes that explore the relationship between colour and line; as Yamada notes, "A series of rectangles and colours has a sense of unity as a new set of neighbouring relationships." Like the pointillists that came before him, Yamada was fascinated by the optical effects that could be achieved by placing contrasting colours side-by-side. In time, his works would evolve to focus entirely upon these relationships, as he developed works that challenged conventions about the concepts that could be explored through paint.

Simple in appearance but complex in execution, all of Yamada's stripe paintings adhere to a single basic format – horizontal parallel lines in alternating colours. Yet upon close inspection, each work is unique not only in its composition of colours but also in the work's dimensions, the randomness of drips, and natural variations in a hand-painted line. In that regard, Yamada's works lack the mechanical anonymity of minimalism – his works emphasize the hand of the artist, as he sought to capture concepts of "all-colours," "the equivalence of colours," and "totality" in his work. Rich expressionistic brushstrokes create rough, varied layers of colour, conveying a feeling of freedom within the context of repetition.

Yamada would eventually resume subdividing his canvases into quadrants, but with his newfound understanding of colour, he produced works that were simple in colour and focused instead on the repetition of regular forms such as crosses and grids. Pieces such as Work C.267 (Lot 483) and Work D.206 (Lot 484) showcase a retained sensitivity towards texture and brushstroke, even as they explore concepts of space, line and the painted surface. Perhaps as a result of this controlled approach to colour, when colours did eventually reappear in his work, they did so in a dramatic, exuberant fashion. Paintings such as Work E.328 (Lot 485) burst with colours that break across delineated boundaries, recalling the expressive drips and dashes that can be found in his earlier work.

To fully understand Yamada's life and career, we must examine his works not only as individual paintings, but also as part of a collective group representing decades of evolution and creative output. In one of Yamada's notebooks, a hastily scribbled note on the bottom of one page states "Compare one work with others, rather than being confined, they support each other."

Unlike many artists who are known for a singular style, or have many dramatically different periods within their oeuvre, all of Yamada's works are diverse yet interrelated, forming one great meta-painting through which we can observe the artistic process of a single individual who, working alone, almost single-handedly anticipated some of the greatest artistic revolutions of the 20th century.

More from Asian 20th Century Art (Day Sale)

View All
View All