KAZUO SHIRAGA (1924-2008)
KAZUO SHIRAGA (1924-2008)
KAZUO SHIRAGA (1924-2008)
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KAZUO SHIRAGA (1924-2008)

Chiken-sei kendoshin

Details
KAZUO SHIRAGA (1924-2008)
Chiken-sei kendoshin
signed in Japanese and dated '1961' (lower left); signed, titled in English and Japanese and dated 'Chiken-sei Kendoshin Kazuo Shiraga 1961' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
63 ½ x 51 1/8 in. (161.3 x 129.9 cm.)
Painted in 1961.
Provenance
Galerie Georg Nothelfer, Berlin
Private collection
Anon. sale; Sotheby's, Paris, 10 December 2008, lot 19
Private collection, Belgium
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2015
Literature
Kazuo Shiraga: Painting Born out of Fighting, exh. cat., Toyoshina, Azumino Municipal Museum of Modern Art, 2009, no. 97 (illustrated).
Body and Matter: The Art of Kazuo Shiraga and Satoru Hoshino, exh. cat., New York, Dominique Lévy Gallery, 2015, p. 79 (illustrated).

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Lot Essay

My completed work is not for someone to appreciate. It should have the impact of a blow" Kazuo Shiraga

Weaving together forceful rivulets of paint with delicate veils of drips and splatters, Kazuo Shiraga’s Chiken-sei Kendoshin encompasses the full range of the artist’s painterly gestures. It’s active surface is the physical manifestation of Shiraga’s highly performative practice in which his body becomes his paintbrush. Using his hands and feet, and sometimes doing so while suspended from the ceiling, Shiraga literary drags his paint across the surface of the canvas. In Chiken-sei kendoshin almost the entire picture plane is covered with the artist’s energetic marks, sometimes meandering in isolation, while at other times converging into peaks of thick impasto. Where these marks don’t fill the composition, tiny jewel-like spots of color sparkle against the primed canvas. Combining both gesture and color, and movement and restraint, Shiraga’s Chiken-sei kendoshin fizzles with energy and vivacity.  

The artist’s energetic, intensely physical abstracts exist in a vibrant space between performance art and Expressionist painting. A member of the influential Japanese Gutai group, among the artist’s earliest works were performances beginning in the mid-1950s, in which he used his whole body to shape and churn vast piles of mud. His painterly practice evolved from this direct totality of gesture and engagement with matter. Holding onto a rope suspended from the ceiling of his studio, Shiraga would stroke viscous slicks of oil paint across the canvas with his feet, sliding color into color with liquid dexterity. He hit upon this technique nearly a decade before the present work was executed: it would dominate his output for the following five decades. He recalled its discovery as a miraculous moment of understanding and self-revelation. “When, on discovering my true nature, I decided to cast of all the existing uniforms and be naked, figuration shattered into fragments and I dropped my painter’s knife which broke in two ... One day I swapped my knife for a piece of wood which I rejected out of impatience. I tried with my bare hands, with my fingers. Then, convinced I needed to be even bolder, I went even further and that is how I came to feet. That was it! Painting with the feet” (K. Shiraga, quoted in ‘L’Acte Même, in 1910-1970 Japon des Avant-gardes, exh. cat. Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1986, p. 300).

Painted in 1961, Chiken-sei kendoshin dates from a highly significant time for Shiraga. It was a period when he was on the cusp of international claim, for 1962 was the year in which he was given his first solo show outside his native country, at the Galerie Stadler in Paris. The gallery owner, Rodolphe Stadler, had first introduced Shiraga’s work to Europe 1959, when he included his work in the collective exhibition tamorphisme. Shiraga and Stadler continued to work together until the gallery closed in 1991, during which time Shiraga’s work became well-known and widely lauded, resonating with audiences in Europe and America as well as Japan.

Yves Klein, who had spent time in Japan learning Judo, was also greatly inspired by the work of Gutai. At the time the present work was painted, Klein had also recently begun to incorporate live action into his practice with his idea of ‘living paintbrushes’, first used in the Anthropometries of 1958. In his seminal Chelsea Hotel Manifesto of 1961, Klein showed his respect for their work “I speak of that group of Japanese painters who with great refinement used my method in a strange way. In fact, these painters actually transformed themselves into living brushes. By diving themselves in color and then rolling on their canvases, they became representative of ultra-action-painters!” (Y. Klein, The Chelsea Hotel Manifesto, 1961, cited at http://www.yveskleinarchives.org/documents/chelsea_us.html). As Klein acknowledged, Shiraga had demonstrated a singular vision and unwavering courage in being one of the first artists to abandon traditional tools in favor of the immediacy the body. Visceral, spontaneous and visually powerful, his paintings from the early 1960s resound with the energy and excitement of one of the most artistically experimental periods of the twentieth century.

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