ILLUSIONS FOR THE VISUAL SENSE
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 works 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. In that new style, the multilayered materials of his 1950s works evolved into oil paintings with thickly layered pigments, and his earlier mixes of wood chips and pigments emerged into new forms as long and ephemeral brushstrokes. Those long brushstrokes - virtually the sole element of Uemae's painterly vocabulary - were transformed on his canvases into visual effects that not only dazzled but could also sometimes fool the eye. In his 1968 Untitled (Lot 82), the artist begins with various hues of red, tangerine, and yellow in fine, evanescent strokes, then fills the spaces between them with deep cobalt blue, black, and sky blue, and finally adds larger blocks of colour on the surface above them. Complex shadows that enhance the work's three-dimensionality emerge from the interactions between his long and irregularly shaped strokes. During the same period, however, Uemae continually pushed his visual motifs toward even greater expressiveness. He even gradually eliminated the element of colour itself and painted with one of the least dazzling of colours, earth yellow, to allow his ephemeral brushstrokes their greatest scope of expression. In Uemae's 1971 Untitled (Lot 83), his long, exquisite brushstrokes produce shadowy, half-emerging lines, which become apparent only by virtue of reflections that vary with the size and angle of his brushstrokes and the thickness of the pigment carried on his brush tip. This Untitled evinces Uemae's rich understanding of the properties of the oil medium as he evokes new potentials in its use. Through 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.