THE POWER OF VISUAL ILLUSION
Chiyu Uemae became involved with the Gutai Art Association in 1954 as one of its founding members, and he remained faithful to this group of 'concrete' artists for the duration of its existence. Uemae also held solo exhibitions of his own at important art institutions, including one at the Osaka Contemporary Art Center in 1999. His work can be found in the collections of Les Abattoirs Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Toulouse, France, and the Pompidou Center in Paris.
One important aspect of the Gutai artists' work was that they began with everyday life and sought to create art without constraints, using everything from old newspapers, metal, fabrics, wood, plastic bags, and light bulbs, to water, mud, smoke, sand, light, and glass. Determined to free themselves from the techniques and materials employed by traditional high art, they challenged conventional formats, materials, techniques and boundaries to explore the unlimited possibilities of creativity. The Gutai manifesto, written by Yoshihara Jir? in 1956, states that 'Gutai Art does not alter matter. Gutai Art imparts life to matterK In Gutai Art, the human spirit and matter shake hands with each other while keeping their distance.'
Uemae's early work in the 1950s consisted of mixed media paintings incorporating wood, sawdust, thread, and pigments. Different materials occupy the same platform, resting together or pushing against each other to produce quick contrasts, their individual characteristics appearing all the more striking when viewed together. Viewers often note how materials they take for granted in daily life suddenly acquire a 'personal' charisma of their own in his work. As Andy Warhol once said, 'everything has its beauty but not everyone sees it.'
In the 1960s, Uemae developed a style in which he built up layers on canvas out of long, ephemeral brushstrokes. He suggested new potentials in the use of the oil medium: In the varying strengths of his hues and his precise shifts in shape and colour, Uemae evokes illusory visual effects similar to those that, in the late 1950s, began to be popularized by the proponents of Op Art. The '70s saw Uemae producing a series of cross-stitched embroidery works, where the long brushstrokes of his previous oils developed into fine white threading on a black ground, while he introduced the elements of lines and points. The artist has said of his work that 'A crippling inferiority complex and an equally unshakeable sense of superiority flow like pressure fronts across my mind. My brain, cultivated and nurtured by my previous experiences, is in a state of perpetual ferment - a whole swathe of images (or ideas) foam up one after another. These ten fingers, gradually honed in a myriad of ways to a level that far exceeds any computer, carve out images transmitted from my brain to my nerves using materials that have been chosen for me. These inscriptions are no longer just material substances, but rather eternal, indestructible grave markers in which the living breath of the artist and his time resides.' In Uemae's Untitled (Lot 88), it's stitch one, skip one, thread over thread, and as repetition of the same motion ties Uemae's embroidery to individual action, the points and lines found in the work represent the artist's own breath. By the '90s, Uemae had developed a repeated saw-tooth type of texturing, and in his 1996 Untitled (Lot 88), a two-colour pattern in black and grey on silk reasserts the power to be found within geometric patterns.