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signed in Japanese, signed 'IMAï', inscribed 'PARIS', dated 'NOV. 56' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
89 x 130 cm. (35 x 51 1/8 in.)
Painted in 1956
Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
Arthur Lenars & Co., Paris
Private Collection, USA

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Annie Lee
Annie Lee

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Lot Essay

Toshimitsu Imai was an important figure within the history of post-war Japanese art, becoming one of the first Japanese members of the Art Informél movement in Paris and playing a key role in the globalization of Japanese modern art. Born in Kyoto, Imai trained at the Tokyo State Art Academy before emigrating to Paris in 1952 in pursuit of further education in the arts. There he encountered the American artist Sam Francis, who in turn introduced him to Michel Tapié, a prominent artist, critic and art collector who immediately recognized the importance and potential of Imai’s early fauvist works.

It was Tapié who influenced Imai to switch from representational painting to a more abstract style that emphasized color and texture. The rich blue of this painting Untitled (Lot 521), executed in 1965, immediately draws the attention of the viewer’s gaze, and helps it to focus on the tactility of the work’s surface. Beneath the thick drips and piles of oil paint, bright splashes of color add layers of depth, surfacing here and there with visceral sensitivity. In 1956 – the same year that this work was created – Imai curated an exhibition of Art Informel works in Japan, and also helped arrange for Tapié, Sam Francis and George Matthieu to travel to his native homeland. Via this connection, an important link was established between Tapié and the Gutai Group led by Jiro Yoshihara, which in turn allowed for the widespread dissemination of Gutai art across Europe.

Though Imai remains relatively unknown in comparison to many of his contemporaries, his importance as a pioneer within Art Informel and his role in the globalization of modern Japanese art has gained recognition in recent years, cementing his status as a key figure in the history of Asian modernism.

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