“When I create my works, my feelings are a mixture of yakekuso (desperation), fumajime (absence of seriousness) and charanporan (irresponsibility). Yakekuso is for me the condition of complete spiritual freedom, in which I become free from any limit and also my ability in itself becomes infinite. Fumajime is the refusal of the past. In the human society, there have always been many codes, laws and rules from the past till now. The refusal of all those rules is nothing but the future. At last, for charanporan I mean ‘the return to the real human shape’. In other words, if the bonds of the society and those of the family did not exist, I think everything would be “charanporan” under all these conditions. Man by nature has a great power, and when this power is expressed with desperation, absence of seriousness and irresponsibility, it becomes the manifestation of his true form.” - Yasuo Sumi
Born in Osaka in 1925, Yasuo Sumi joined Gutai Group in 1955 and participated in all the group exhibitions from the very first to the 21st, which was the last. Impressed by Sumi’s reckless spirit in splattering paints, Jiro Yoshihara and Shozo Shimamoto, the co-founders of avant-garde Gutai movement, encouraged Sumi to grow more ambitions in his creative expressions with oil paints. In Freudian psychoanalysis, the unconscious mind, the space “below the surface”, is shaped by various thought processes, memories, and personal experience throughout one’s life. Not available during introspection, unconsciousness automatically reveals the most free and pure status of one’s mind, usually through actions free from rules or laws. Like other Gutai artists, Yasuo Sumi incorporated different painting techniques and various tools to hone diverse ways to express his freedom and release his unconsciousness with oil paints. Sumi’s visualisation of his unconsciousness can be connected to one of the techniques widely adopted by ancient Chinese calligraphers, Kuang Cao (“??” in Chinese), the wild cursive scripts (Fig. 1). Many of Kuang Cao artists wrote for enjoyment after drinking and their scripts reveal the true and pure identity and character of the artist.
Sumi is well-known for his use of various objects, including combs, vibrators, ladles, buckets, Sorobans (Japanese abacus), traditional Japanese paper umbrellas, and Geta sandals (Japanese wooden footwear), to create unique strokes that let the viewer identify his works. Not only canvas, but different surfaces such as paper and netting let Sumi reflect his unrestrictedly free spirit. Sumi’s canvas is like a sheet of music created by the vibrant yet harmonious rhythms of vivid colors and explicit textures of paints (Fig.2). Friend and Friend (Lot 42), created in the 1990s, best exemplifies this lyrical scene. Instead of brushes, Sumi plays with different instruments. Dipping abacus in white oil paint and rolling it all over the canvas painted in red, spraying white, blue, yellow, brown colors of lacquers over the white footprints of abacus, and stepping the canvas with Japanese wooden sandals dipped in paints sometimes with other tools in his hands (Fig.3). Thin and fine lines of white paint by abacus draws the viewer’s attention to the corners and the outer circle of the canvas. But at the same time, the huge curve of thick white paint directs the viewer to the center, which is empty yet full. Sometimes crescendo and sometimes decrescendo; there is no rule in his music but only his free reckless spirit and pure soul. By the end of this magnificent symphony, the viewer would be overwhelmed with the same feelings that Yasuo Sumi felt when he created this work: desperation, absence of seriousness, and irresponsibility.