FAN SHAPES AND CURVING LINES, FLUIDITY AND SPEED
In the mid-1960s, post-war Japanese artist Kazuo Shiraga began creating a series of 'fan-shaped paintings,' the product of his own newly-developed creative techniques. In about 1964, he started using wooden boards and sticks to push oil pigments across his canvases, leaving arching, fan-shaped blocks of colour. Those perfect curves of colour testify to the speed and centrifugal energy involved during their creation as well as the artist's accuracy and control. Beyond exploring how oils responded to his wooden implements to produce those fan-shaped spreads of colour, Shiraga delved into the expressive powers of these unusually shaped paintings. Dating from 1968, Keicho 19 (Osaka Winter Campaign) (Lot 67) is the largest fan-shaped painting in Shiraga's artistic career, measuring 360cm in length. The name of Shiraga's work derives from the nineteenth year of Japan's Keicho era, in which Siege of Osaka began with the Winter Campaign. The Siege of Osaka marked the end of the Sengoku, or warring states period, after which Japan began anew as a unified nation. Shiraga's Keicho 19 displays the artist's transformation of his feeling for history into a personal work of art; it also shows how, by means of creative techniques he developed himself, he was able to capture on canvas the natural, flowing movements of the body and the speed of their motion in painting.
THE FAN SHAPE: FLOWING LINES AND THE ARC
Shiraga's interest in the fan shape was closely bound up with its flowing lines. The fan shape is one kind of graphic shape, having the longest arc of any geometric figure, and Shiraga's interest in such lines and shapes can be traced back to the mid-1950s. During the first Gutai 'Art on the Stage' show of 1957, the opening act was Shiraga's presentation of something he called his 'Ultramodern Sanbaso'. He deliberately lengthened the sleeves of the traditional Sanbaso dancer's costume, creating an exaggerated effect in which the upward and downward movements of his hand became great arcs, displaying the body's ability to produce fluent lines full of motion. During the following year's Art on the Stage production, he made two fans out of cloth, waving them in the air in his outstretched arms. As these early performances indicate, he had a sensitive feel for extended, flowing movements and lines. By 1965, he was creating large-scale paper fan sculptures, and further using the paper fans to create installation art as a continuing exploration of the expressive potentials of the fan.
OILS: A FLUID PHYSICAL MEDIUM
For Shiraga, oils were a material whose qualities were fluidity and their extensible properties. While studying Japanese painting at the Kyoto City Specialist School of Painting, he developed a fine understanding of the contrasting properties of Japanese paints and oils: 'Japanese paints come in the form of powdered pigment which must be kneaded with aqueous glue and then thinned. After one is finished painting, when the paint dries, much of the colour is lost and so the tone of the colour is greatly altered. The paint doesn't spread, due to its adhesiveness, and it's so powdery that it is impossible to create a fluid effect. K This experience helped me better appreciate the fluid effect one can achieve with oil paints. I became fascinated with oil painting and this eventually led me towards painting with my feet.'
Oil pigments, as Shiraga understood them, were more than just the traditional artistic medium used in the West for depicting or reproducing a scene. Instead, what attracted him were their highly fluid qualities and the fact that they could be extended and shaped, which for him represented their unique 'character.' And he eagerly hoped that with new creative techniques, he would be able to express his highly individual feeling toward oils and successfully break through traditional modes of painting. Thus in his painting he used non-traditional methods, and tools such as his limbs and wooden boards and sticks, out of which he created avant-garde abstract art.
MIND AND BODY
Shiraga believed that people's minds and bodies were inseparable, and that neither was dominant or subsidiary. Thoughts affect the body, and our bodies likewise influence our thinking. As he once pointed out, 'People need first of all to understand the personal material they were born with. This material expresses one's difference from others and comes out when a person observes, feels, talks, paints, or makes sounds. Each person should develop their own way of feeling, talking and painting.K The stronger a person's will, the more they can resist external forces. Contemporary intellect is fleeing from the darkness of the first half of the 20th century and longing for a brighter world.' Shiraga's action paintings were more than just vehicles for the artist's physical movements and their fluidity and speed; they were also stamped with the artist's thoughts and the artist's reaction to his own innate gifts. The artists of the 'Gutai' ('concrete') school actually never ceased exploring the spiritual path - their art was their soul, and their works expressed their true selves. As one of the artists said, 'Art is the proof of life.' Shiraga painted with his body and his feet, posing challenges to the oil medium at the physical level, while also making psychological statements of self-assertion, standing up against outside forces and the experience of his predecessors.
Religion and reading famous historical works were two routes by which Shiraga enjoyed pursuing mental and spiritual exploration. Even as a child he loved to read classic Chinese literature and he knew the stories of many classic novels by heart. He even borrowed the names of some of their famous characters, finding them convenient as names under which to record his work. Keicho 19 (Osaka Winter Campaign) is one part of the artist's reflections on this important chapter in Japanese history, as he produced both an Osaka Winter Campaign and an Osaka Summer Campaign. The winter campaign took place during the nineteenth year of the Keicho era, or the year 1614, in November and December; the summer campaign was launched in April of the following year. In the end, the Tokugawa Shogunate, under Tokugawa Leyasu, eliminated the rival Toyotomi clan, ending the Warring States period and unifying Japan under their rule.
Shiraga employs cobalt turquoise blue as the base colour for his composition, and using his wooden implements, he pushes Prussian blue, zinc white, and buff pigments from the left. They mix and form more complex shades, while touches of cadmium red-purple provide enlivening embellishment in the centre of the painting. In the lower right, yellow ochre with a trace of gold evokes the visual effects of the gold leaf often used in traditional Japanese painting. The buff tones near the top of the arc recall the depiction of clouds in traditional Japanese screen paintings, as in the 17th century work The Siege of Osaka Castle (Fig. 1), where golden cloud motifs segment the abstract space within the painting. This fan painting by Shiraga embodies traditional meanings, as in Japan, during times of peace, fans represent the new year. And because opening a fan symbolically represents opening one's heart, the fan was used in ceremonies at Shinto shrines as a signal inviting the deities to descend to the mortal realm. Kazuo Shiraga drew inspiration from both Japanese history and its traditional art, and in his Keicho 19 (Osaka Winter Campaign), he combines them with his own new creative techniques and concepts, injecting traditional Japanese flavour into an avant-garde, abstract work of art.