Kazuo Shiraga's vibrant work 'Séi' (1991) leads Bonhams Post-War and Contemporary sale on Thursday 8 March at Bonhams New Bond St. A late example of the artist's widely celebrated foot-painting, the work is estimated at £500,000-700,000.
Shiraga (1924-2008) was an established member of Gutai, the first radical movement to emerge from post-war Japan. Gutai promised to reject the past in favour of uncompromising modernity. On those grounds, Shiraga spurned his traditional training and looked to a process that would merge composition and body. In a move that many saw as the foundation for performance art, he attached a rope to the ceiling of his studio and used his feet (and sometimes entire body) to paint a canvas on the floor below. Séi was painted in that manner, a technique that lends both dynamism and physicality.
The Gutai founder, Jiro Yoshihara, insisted that it was the act and not the "residue" that constituted art. Despite those tenets, Shiraga kept and sold his work. Producing action painting to be hung on the wall, he followed in the footsteps of Jackson Pollock.
Another artist often associated with Shiraga is Yves Klein. Adopting the 'living brush' technique years after Shiraga, Klein was careful to distance himself from his contemporary. In his Chelsea Manifesto of 1961, Klein wrote of 'Japanese painters' who 'used my method in a strange way', going on to note, 'Personally, I would never attempt to smear paint over my body... it would never cross my mind'.
Only recently has Shiraga's work been recognised as having an important place in the history of contemporary art. In the past decade, Shiraga's work has been shown in institutions including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (New York), MoMA (New York), the Museum of Contemporary Art (LA), the Centre Pompidou (Paris) and in the 2009 Venice Biennale.
Ralph Taylor, Bonhams Director of Contemporary Art, commented, "Shiraga is internationally recognised as a pioneer. Undoubtedly among the most important artists to have emerged from 1950s Japan, his avant-garde approach is considered radical now but at the time was nothing short of revolutionary."
Also featuring in Bonhams Post-War and Contemporary sale is a work by Gutai co-founder Shozo Shimamoto (Japanese, 1928-2013). 'Untitled', 1951, is estimated at £80,000-120,000. The piece is part of a series Shimamoto began in 1950. Unable to afford canvas, the artist painted on layers of newspaper fixed with glue and, in this case, sand and tar. He pierced the surface of this make-shift canvas in order to explore the relationship between delicate creation and violent destruction. Shimamoto's works are in museum collections including Tate Modern, London.
NOTES FOR EDITORS
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