Yoshihara Jiro, founder of the Gutai Association in 1954, was one of the leading abstract painters of his time in Japan and among the earliest advocates of the international modern movement that emerged in the 1950s. Related to the Informel in Europe, the Gutai reacted against the restrictions of the guild-like artists' societies prevalent in Japan. Painters and performance artists in the Gutai relied on direct, immediate expression and interaction. For them the content of a work of art was found in its physical expression, in a brushstroke, the layering of paint, or in a gesture. In the 1950s and 1960s Yoshihara directed the Gutai Pinacotheca in Osaka, an organization that exhibited the work of its member artists and produced catalouges that provide a detailed record of the Japanese, European and American painters who embraced the new philosophy.
A native of Osaka, Yoshihara's formal training was in science and he graduated from the Commerical School of Kansai Gakuin University. Throughout the 1930s he exhibited regularly with the Nika artists' association, became a member in 1938 and, in 1961, was elected its director.
Yoshihara's first one-man exhibition was held at the Asahi Kaikan in Osaka in 1928. In 1937 he had a solo show at the Kinokuniya Art Gallery in Tokyo, and in 1967 at the Tokyo Gallery. His many group exhibitions include the Salon de Mai in Paris in 1952, the Carnegie International Exhibition in Pittsburgh in 1952, 1958, and 1961, the 12th Premio Lissone in Italy in 1961, Contemporary Japanese Paintings and Sculpture sponsored by the American Federation of Arts in 1963-64, the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. in 1964, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in 1965, and The New Japanese Painting and Sculpture held in eight American museums from 1965-67, organized and exhibited by the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Over the course of his career Yoshihara was accorded numerous prizes for his work including the Nika Exhibition Award in 1934, 1937, 1939 and 1949, the Osaka Prefectural Art Award in 1953, the Hyogo Prefecture Cultural Award in 1963, and the Guggenheim International Award in 1964. In 1967 he won the Grand Prize at the 9th Tokyo Biennial.
Yoshihara Jiro is represented in collections worldwide including the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, St. Louis University Museum, and the International Center of Aesthetic Research in Turin, Italy. The Gutai disbanded upon his death in 1972.