“Create what has never been done before!”. Encouraged by the words of Jirō Yoshihara, artists at the first Gutai Art Exhibition came together to create a revolutionary body of work which epitomised the complex discourse of originality and authenticity of both the pre- and post-war period in Japan. On view at Cardi Gallery Milan, an outstanding selection of works by artist Shozo Shimamoto, co-founder of the movement, presents the dynamic spirit of Gutai. Through performative and dynamic performative elements the artist became a significant point of reference for post-war expressionist action painting, inspired by and in creative symbiosis with American artists of the time such as Jackson Pollock.
“Even if my method seems shocking and violent – crushing bottles and shooting cannons at the canvas – because I am an artist my purpose is to make the work beautiful, to show the beauty of everything. I’m just working on creating beauty.”
Widely regarded as one of the most influential Japanese artists, Shozo Shimamoto was the co- founder and original member of the post-war art movement, The Gutai Art Association. Through various artistic practices, the members of Gutai sought to explore the abstract, establishing the creation of art and beauty within a moment of destruction, decay and damage. Enclosing two meanings the term translates to the “concrete” and “embodiment”, inviting the artists to physically engage with the artwork, object, the concrete form. The ethos of the movement largely followed the belief that an artwork is the physical result and representation of the gestural artistic transfer to the work’s surface. Working with approximately 59 avant- garde Japanese artists, the group, founded by Shimamoto and Yoshihara, was active from 1954 to 1971 and produced a complex yet historically important body of work that sought to reflect on the experienced violence of the war. Emerging from the Kansai region, known for its traditionalism the group aimed to fully transform Japanese Art, introducing innovative artistic techniques. The re-incarnation of art and culture in post-war Japan followed a deadly and violent period, seeing the Hiroshima bombing and the events of the Second World War. Part of this rebirth was a return to the question of material and the desire to break boundaries and seek innovation. Working with a variety of media, from technology, installation, performance to gestural abstraction. Establishing art within a multi-genre context, Shimamoto and the other members rejected formal terms such as painter and embraced the artist as an emblematic term to describe the encompassing act of making an artwork for which the act of making was part of the result.
“Let’s bid farewell to the hoaxes piled up on the altars and in the palaces, the drawing rooms and the antique shops. They are monsters made of the matter called paint, of cloth, metals, earth, and marble, which through a meaningless act of signification by humans, through the magic of material, were made to fraudulently assume appearances other than their own. These types of matter [busshitsu], all slaughtered under the pretense of production by the mind, can now say nothing. Lock up these corpses in the graveyard. Gutai Art does not alter matter. Gutai Art imparts life to matter. Gutai Art does not distort matter.”
(Gutai Art Manifesto, Jirō Yoshihara 1956)