The name Gutai refers to “concreteness”, expressing physical embodiment, as opposed to representing abstract thought, thus it was at the core of the Japanese Gutai group’s mission to engage directly with their materials; this principle is never more evident than in the work of Takesada Matsutani. Concretism was not confined only to Japan, but rather was part of the global Post-War era discourse, in which artists were disaffected by the world’s moral and physical ruin. In this sense,the organic surfaces Matsutani conjures from his canvases have also been compared to human body—ruptures like sores on colorless skin. Concrete art emphasised the freedom of pure gesture and the authenticity in denial of symbolism, instead delighting in the materiality of paint itself.
Matsutani’s work reveals a close relationship with the natural world. In the 1960s, the artist was inspired by the samples of blood enlarged under microscope. Thus, it should be no surprise that Work 65-K (Lot 36) appears to be a magnified view of a petri-dish, once teaming with miniscule organisms now frozen in place. A multitude of soft organic shapes drift across the canvas, similar enough to exist in the same kingdom, yet diverse enough to represent many different species. Matsutani invented a unique method of responding to the essential properties of his materials: exhaling through a drinking straw into thick layers of semi-congealed pigments that would absorb his breath in pockets and he let them expand or collapse as they would, thereby directly linking their physical nature with his inner essence. Viewers could feel the supple toughness of the membrane-like structures that formed like a living surface suspended in time.
Matsutani was backed by a long Japanese heritage of celebrating inherent physical properties of materials. The Japanese karayo calligraphy of Ike Taiga, one of the most prolific literati artists in Japan during the Edo period (1603–1868), is a good example. (Fig. 1). Ike’s continuous sinuous strokes suggest the swift movement of his hand, just as Matsutani’s own breath is evidenced in his painting, allowing viewers to sense the intimate connection between the artist and his materials, and the interaction between the two. The rapid variation from dry to wet and thick to thin in Ike’s calligraphy displays the full spectrum of potential and possibility in black ink.
Although the roots of his aesthetic sensibilities may be traced back to the past, Matsutani's work also recalls the Italian avant-garde abstract expressionist artist Alberto Burri. Both explored the limitations and the possibilities of their chosen materials, elevating them through unconventional treatments of new spheres of perception (Fig. 2). Burri's chosen materials included burlap and plastic resins and involved fire as the main medium. Using a blowtorch as a paintbrush, he melted or singed his materials until they reshaped into new formations. With this technique, Burri articulated the beings of his essential materials and the transformations of their textures.
The three dimensional quality of both Burri’s and Matsutani’s works in fact lends a painterly quality to the varied surfaces—the puckered edges of the burst bubbles in Matutani’s paintings and the thickened and shriveled plastic of Burri’s works recalling impasto. Both artists transcend the apparent limitation of their media, revaluing the materials that were otherwise prosaic and overlooked. In addition, both artists chose to utilise unpredictable element as their defining material—fire and air.
Physical materials are, on the one hand, the carriers of the artist's deep, intuitive perceptions, and Matsutani at the same time presents his materials in their most authentic form, refusing to distort them or force them to conform to his own intent. In this way, Mitsutani allows the materials to speak with their own voice and to break through the restrictive concepts of painting, thus establishing new imaginative spaces between two-and three- dimensions.