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KEY HIRAGA (JAPAN, 1936-2000)
KEY HIRAGA (JAPAN, 1936-2000)

Fenetre (Window)

Details
KEY HIRAGA (JAPAN, 1936-2000)
Fenetre (Window)
dated and signed ‘65 Key hIRaga’ (lower right); signed ‘KEY HIRAGA’, signed in Japanese, titled ‘fenetre’ (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
129.7 x 96.5 cm. (51 1/8 x 38 in.)
Painted in 1965
Provenance
Jean-Marie Drot Collection, France
Private Collection, Asia

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Lot Essay

The points, lines, and planes of Hiraga's work, moving freely in a multidimensional space in complex, interwoven organizations, distinguished his work from that of other Japanese contemporaries who were also working in abstract styles. In 1965, the 29-year-old artist won Japan's prestigious National Young Artist Award and was invited for a residency in Paris. That same year, William Lieberman, head curator at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), visited Hiraga's studio and decided on the spot that the museum should buy a work from Hiraga's Window series for its permanent collection. Lieberman also invited Hiraga to participate in MoMA's The New Japanese Painting and Sculpture, the large-scale traveling exhibition planned for the following year.

In Fenetre (Window) (Lot14), Hiraga's assemblage of shapes, forms, and dimensions puts on full display the appeal of Eastern linear art as it documents the traces of his brush tip in dynamic motion. Set off against a background of elegant Eastern simplicity in various shades of grey and white, a welter of lines spreads in a crazy tangle, writing and breathing in total freedom. Floating up or sinking down, their shapes seem to involuntarily slip away from our manufactured expectations. This seemingly random placement and rearrangement of lines pushes the work towards a more purified and emotionalised state. It breaks through the dividing line between our visual perception and consciousness, positioning Hiraga as an Asian artist on an equal footing with artists such as Dubuffet and Cy Twombly who also admired the idea of creativity based on the non-conscious and calligraphic use of line. Further, Picasso's Guernica served as inspiration at one point for the ingenious use of line and of positive and negative space seen in the Window series, causing objects which might have been hidden in space to give off a mysterious light pulsing between darkness and brightness. 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.

During Hiraga's residency in France, the essential Japanese spirit that still coursed in his veins collided head-on with French culture, the artistic result being a kind of social-modernist version of Japan's Ukiyo-e paintings. Turning away from Art Informel, he joined with the French Narrative Figuration (1960-1972) school of artists, and further, reflected on the nature of figuration itself. He both bypassed the 'hegemony' of the American Abstract Expressionists, and indirectly, within an international context, experimented with making Pop Art more personalised. Exposure to the garish night life of Paris catalysed Hiraga's zany and sometimes darkly satirical views of relations between the sexes, the subject that would become his mainstay during the middle and later parts of his career, as seen in Lots 15, 16, and 17. As his style gradually moved toward more realism and figuration, he also shifted away from his earlier use of colour in a single shade of brightness and toward intensely expressive and highly saturated colours, like those of pop artist Tom Wesselman, who employed montages with large amounts of clashing colour to highlight the contradictions and the nakedness of the sexes. Key Hiraga, taking it a step further, draws on malpositioned organs and body parts as if deconstructed from fragmented illustrations, which he then recombines in humorous arrangements, freeze-framing and magnifying moments of intimate physical contact. Gerald Gassiot-Talabot, founder of the Narrative Figuration school, once jokingly commented on the elements of Hiraga's painting, describing "cheerful night owls who seem to have forgotten the laws of gravity; the least we can say is that Hiraga is a painter who doesn't have his feet on the ground." Viewing Hiraga's utopian scenes of impulsive sexuality, viewers may feel as if they've ingested some kind of hallucinogen and can suddenly experience temporal and spatial illusions and displacements. But once this temporary drug-induced derangement has passed, we find we can more deeply appreciate the artist's trenchant depictions of the primitive human desires and social realities.

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