Gutai pt1: Kazuo Shiraga

Suspended above the canvas, moving paint around with his feet, Kazuo Shiraga created spectacular artwork, often with an audience. He was one of the most prominent artists of the Japanese movement Gutai that has has gained new recognition in recent years.

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Kazuo Shiraga Chigakusei Tekkyoshi sold for €2,167,500 at Christie´s in 2018.
Suspended above the canvas, moving paint around with his feet, Kazuo Shiraga created spectacular artwork, often with an audience. He was one of the most prominent artists of the Japanese movement Gutai that has has gained new recognition in recent years.

“Do what no one has done before!” The Gutai Group was a radical post-war art movement in Japan. Gutai can be loosely translated to “concreteness” or “embodiment”. The group was first brought together by the wealthy Jiro Yoshihara, with an ambition to fill the cultural void left in the wake of the Second World War and the atomic bombings. The group initially consisted of twenty artist who was urged to follow their own individual path, exploring a wide range of different materials such as tar, mud, glue, newspaper and water as well as performance art and happenings. The Gutai Group meant involving the whole body in the artistic process.

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The work of Kazuo Shiraga of the Gutai Group.

Kazuo Shiraga (1924-2008) was born in Amagasaki, Japan and educated at Kyoto School of Arts. He was trained in traditional Japanese painting but was also inspired by modern Western techniques. Kazuo Shiraga eventually joined the Gutai Group whose focus on attaining genuine originality and innovation in artwork coincided well with Shiraga´s desire to create art in a way that no one had ever done before. His method of painting hanging in a rope from the ceiling was developed during his Gutai years. In this “action painting/performance” method he created a large number of paintings throughout his career.

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Kazuo Shiraga Chiyusei Seibokukan from 1961.
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Kazuo Shiraga Suiju 1985.
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Shiraga created most of his artworks hanging in a rope above the canvas, manipulating the paint only with his feet.
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Shiraga performing the piece Challenging Mud in 1955.

Although the Gutai Group inspired many European and American artists such as Yves Klein and Georges Mathieu, the works of these artists went mostly under the radar in the Western art world. In recent years however, a new wave of curators have started to rediscover the movement.

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Kazuo Shiraga Choryo 1990.
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Axel Vervoordt showed Kazuo Shiraga at the reopening of his gallery 2017, in Antwerp.

You may also be interested in the article about Yves Klein from earlier this year.