Philosophical Speculation of Self-Exploration
Toshimitsu Imai’s art focuses on constant, spontaneous psychological changes and is not restricted by style, technique, or medium. Having been through a tumultuous time during the war, Imai’s true pursuit surpassed representation and form but emphasized on the intrinsic spiritual essence embodied by art, and he concentrated on using art to search for his position in the vast and complex world. He wrote in a letter to Hideo Kaido in October of 1955, “So from a thirst for freedom and a distrust of science and knowledge. I began to paint almost as a private diary (or human record). In one sense the motivation is religious. True or not, to approach truth through art I considered to be my own self. So neither style nor technique was the basic problem, and I laid aside the brush only when I had convinced myself.”1 He saw art as a journey to seek for truth and a profound dialogue of self-speculation and self-liberation. His exploration on the troubled world, the truth, and human nature was ultimately transformed into powerful, dynamic paintings.
Created in 1961, Untitled (Lot 80) was painted by mixing sand with oil. Imai boldly abandoned restrictions set by conventional theories and techniques and took an alternative approach with art medium. With his technique of using layers of thick paint resembling the style of French artist, Jean Dubuffet (Fig.2), it resulted in a direct and pure expression of personal depth. Imai’s studies and experiments with mediums subverted conventionalism in art, with his distinctive thoughts on the beauty embodied by each medium showcased. Sand and other granule substances were mixed with oil, altering the pigment’s original smooth and shiny texture. The result is a protruding textural effect on the painting, which appears like magically changing and vibrant coral reefs, forming a primal beauty that is simplistic, ruggedly textured, and abstract. Colors underneath are exposed through cracks on the pigments on the surface, and the bursting effect of rocky unevenness and the blue enamel that is flowing and dripping down in various spots have resulted in a strong visual impact. The three-dimensional textures on the painting is a unique notable feature of Imai’s art, with the artist’s use of different mediums leaving behind marks and traces of his artistic gestures (Fig.3). As the mediums solidify and shrink and along with splashes of oil pigments, the textures and qualities of the applied mediums are directly infused in the painting, forming a sense of depth that researches beyond visuality, showcasing the artist’s breakthrough endeavor with painting mediums.
Created in 1962, Eclipse (Noir) (Lot 78) was exhibited at the 7th São Paulo Art Biennial in 1962. The painting is bright, vibrant and composed of four contrasting colors of red, black, yellow, and white, a primary color combination frequently used by Imai. Eclipse (Noir) and several other subsequent paintings (Fig. 3-4) are all based on the theme of the Sun and the eclipse. The Sun is the source of light for the universe and a nurturing energy for all creatures. It is also the symbol of the Japanese flag, as the theme acts like a statement made by the artist to highlight his identity as a Japanese artist. Being the largest and the hottest planet, the Sun also goes through moments when it is eclipsed and darkened. Through recurrent depiction of the Sun’s energy and exposing the breaches of its seemingly eternal force, Imai was making a metaphor suggesting that a nation must strive to progress and change in order to break away from a state of failing decline. This painting was created more than five decades ago, and its thick, overlapping oil, radiating lines (Fig. 5), and speckled hues still project a wild, primal appeal, revealing the intense surge of energy that Imai projected while creating it.
1 Kyuryudo Art Publishing, Toshimitsu Imai, Tokyo, Japan, 1975, P.72.