Japanese Artwork: Kato Art Duo presents 3 artists from the Concrete Art Association in Singapore
Art Republik joins spirit with the Japanese post-war artistic group called the Gutai group to explore its three exhibitions brought to Singapore by Kato Art Duo
Most contemporary Japanese art enthusiasts would have come across the works of the Gutai. The Gutai, also known as the Concrete Art Association, was a post-war artistic group founded in 1954 by renowned Japanese painting master Jiro Yoshihara in Osaka, Japan. Jiro formed this association in order to breed a new generation of Japanese artists that embraced the cultural exchanges between Eastern and Western artistic influences during the post-war Japanese reconstruction. The word ‘Gutai’ means ‘concreteness’, and this influential group was involved in the creation of large-scale multimedia works, paintings, and performances – all of which embody originality and a personal story.
From 4 – 15 January 2017, Kato Art Duo presents ‘Gutai Spirit’, a trio exhibition featuring renowned Gutai artists Chiyu Uemae, Shiraga Kazuo and Ukita Yozo. Jiro mentored these three artists during the 1950s-1970s, and this exhibition is aimed at showcasing different styles from the Gutai through three distinct members.
Chiyu Uemae played a key role in the founding and development of Gutai. Chiyu was born in Kyoto in 1920 and started painting when he was in his teens before running away to pursue his artistic career. He began his tutelage under Jiro in 1953 before helping him start Gutai the following year. His oil paintings consist of multi-layered material painstakingly built up from long pointillist patterns to create amazing shapes and forms on canvas. The dots and lines in his artworks are representations of the traces of his breaths and heartbeats as a painter who eagerly lives his life to the fullest. Along with his oil paintings, Chiyu also experimented with stitched artwork using multi-coloured fabrics as his medium. This was inspired by his experience working as an apprentice at a dyed fabrics store during his youth. During his later years as an artist, Chiyu also experimented with copperplate print works. His experimentation using various media to best amplify his inner voice is a true epitome of the Gutai approach.
Another highly notable member of the Gutai being represented at the exhibition is Shiraga Kazuo. Unlike Chiyu’s deliberate and repetitive works, Shiraga adopted a unique method of action painting from his time in the Gutai. The blending of Eastern and Western techniques that the Gutai embraced is well represented in this particular artist’s paintings. Born in 1924 in Amagazaki, Japan, Shiraga studied traditional Japanese style painting in Kyoto Municipal School of Painting when he was 18, and later transitioned to Western-style painting. Under the influence of American expressionist painter Jackson Pollock, Shiraga incorporated Pollock’s famous action painting techniques into his own works. He joined the Gutai in 1955, and performed one of his best-known works, ‘Challenging Mud’, at the First Gutai Art Exhibition. This involved Shiraga applying large amounts of oil paint to a large canvas and manipulating the paint with his feet while suspended from a rope attached to the ceiling. This current exhibition at Kato Art Duo focuses on Shiraga’s brilliant use of colours in creating his spontaneous and explosive artworks.
Last but not least, the exhibition will also showcase the works of Ukita Yozo, another important member of the Gutai. Born in 1924 in Osaka, Ukita first approached Jiro Yoshihara to illustrate magazine covers for a children’s magazine Ukita was working for at that time called Kirin. Upon encouragement from Jiro, Ukita joined the Gutai movement. His involvement in Kirin led him to develop an interest in the creativity, purity and freedom of childhood, and his interest in children’s art is the core of his artist identity. The free-spirited nature of a child is embodied is his pieces through the playful use of textures and materials, such as construction putty, wood and hemp cloth, all in striking primary colours.
In Jiro Yoshihara’s Gutai Manifesto (1956), he wrote: “In Gutai art, human spirit and matter join hands while conflicting with each other. Matter does not assimilate spirit. Spirit does not subordinate matter. When matter has revealed its essences as it is, it starts narrating and even cries out. To make the most of matter is way to make the most of spirit.”
This idea of objects, signs and events being more important than subjects, symbols and images forms the foundation of the Gutai method. Despite their disbandment in 1972, their spirit and legacy lives on. Their interdisciplinary approach to creating art, combined with their personal experiences and stories, expanded the definition of painting through unique styles and techniques and paved the way for many contemporary Japanese artists thereafter.