Cofounder in 1952 of the avant-garde Society for calligraphy Bokujin-kai, Yuichi Inoue, along with four Kyoto-based calligrapher had the ambition to break through with the Post War Japanese calligraphy which felt to them merely decorative and lacking of new creative breath. In the context of a devastated Post-traumatic Japan, art seemed to Yu-ichi and his mates stuck in a duality between traditionalist sterile imitation and nationalist propaganda. They strived after insufflating art its soul back, and reconnecting with the long spiritual History of Japanese calligraphy that seemed to have lost its inner meaning. Turned towards the Western development of Action painting and the formal debate over abstraction taking place in America and Europe at the time they found new sources of expression to help free their practice, while reciprocally Western artists, Hans Hartung, Henri Michaux, Franz Kline to name a few were researching into the calligraphy tradition to enhance their own practice: building up an inter nurturing international network between East and West. This phenomenon saw the Bokubi arts journal (launched in 1951) as a powerful vehicle of theoretical discussions contributing to giving the movement an international resonance.
After a long seven-year training under mentorship of the established sho calligraphy master Ueda Sokyu Yu-ichi started practicing calligraphy as he personally conceived it, slowly emancipating himself from the guidance of his teacher. This new exercise first destabilized the artist who suddenly realized that creativity can only go with a freeing movement. Then, followed a time when Yu-ichi devoted his entire self to the exploration of art by digesting and deconstructing his learning. Tirelessly he experimented new media and technics, hunted any rhetorical movement or set of rules to deepen his practice and finally acquire a complete freedom beyond any consciousness. By the late 1950s he developed an extreme practice, painting over and over the same character on sheets of paper laid down on the floor, physically exploring the act of writing in a bodily battle with the fluid material. After a sharp selection process he carefully chose the best work and burned what he had rejected. Masaomi Unagami underlines the high standard of Yu-ichi as an artist which reflected his demanding driven personality: ‘That is why YU- ICHI’s exhibited works are few but are the result of an immense labour, the last trace of which has been eradicated.’ (Masaomi Unagami in 1993 source: http://www.yu-ichi.com/texts_en.html)
Yu-ichi takes on and isolates the logographic Kanji character to reflect on the relationship between the meaning and its form, thus questioning the notion of representation and significance with the use of a sign. Originally imported from China and also known as Han character, the Kanji is one of the three sets of characters used in Japanese writing, after a process of adaptation to the language and culture. Once a pictorial symbol the Kanji lost its visual literacy along its evolution, an abstraction that Yu-ichi fully integrates in his practice. Yume, Dream is a recurrent theme in Yu-ichi’s oeuvre in the 1960s. A meaningful anecdote says that he once wrote the character and had his mother, who was bed-ridden with illness, write it based thereon. After his mother died of illness, he had this calligraphic work of hers mounted on the quilt that had covered her bed for so many years. One understands the emotional charge of the word in resonance with the artist’s personal experience. Dream, which represents one of the four states of consciousness linking the real with the unreal in Buddhism has a very symbolic position for the artist.
Exhibited in the ground-breaking exhibition “Abstract Japanese Calligraphy” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1954 Yu-ichi quickly gained international recognition. Then followed major Western artistic manifestations such as the Sao Paulo Biennals and the Kassel Documenta II in 1959, where his work was directly confronted to Pierre Soulages and Jackson Pollock’s works. Today his work is included in several established Museum collections not only in Japan but also in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum fur ostasiatische Kunst in Cologne, Germany and the Museum Rietberg in Zurich.