If a direct relationship existed between a canvas and its painter, it would been through his paintbrushes and the paint. If this same painter wanted to delve into the depths of his canvas, almost becoming one entity, he would get rid of the brushes and paint with the body. Unconventional and conceptual, this process has been experimented with by artist Kazuo Shiraga since the early 1960s. This notion of wanting to break free from pre-formed ideas and individualism emerged from the Japanese post-war Gutai group to which Shiraga belonged. This exploration, which removed any layers between the body and the matter was made possible with the help of Shiraga’s wife, who would apply paint on a horizontal canvas. The artist, who suspended himself from a rope hung from the ceiling, would push and kick the paint onto the surface of the canvas. He followed his instincts and most of the time battled against his own emotions. The renderings displayed at Levy Gorvy are an accumulation of these battles, the paint being the imprint of these fights.
The array of paintings presented in the first room demonstrate strength and harmony. Those adjectives are theoretically opposed, but in this case summarize the essence of Shiraga’s work. The surface is grainy, three-dimensional, and crackled. The content is abstract and meaningful. The gestural expression can be read by the unusual traces, and the imprints of the fingers left from a hand dragging along the length of the canvas.
The black and white painting entitled “Hoho”, which is the first we encounter when stepping into the room, beautifully expresses violence. The strokes scatter, twist, follow a direct line, go back from where they originated, at times are thick, others fine, but all through this process, remain unapologetic. The traces the artist left speak on his behalf. With grace and precision, they symbolize his inner emotions. Acting as a language, they speak his truth. As if paint was an international language intelligible by everyone, Shiraga has not compromised with the intensity of his words. We can read with our own sensitivity his emotions lying on the canvas, translating a struggle, a battle against himself.
Moving along the other paintings of the exhibition, the process stays the same. The colour palette differs but remains earthy: browns, blacks, reds, ochres, and beiges lead the eyes into the emotionally charged cartography of Shiraga’s solar plexus.
The renderings are memories of his internal life. Instead of writing in a journal, the artist opens a jar of paint, unwraps a blank canvas, and jots down his thoughts, feelings, and reflections at any given moment. That is probably not accurate, but that is how I interpret these paintings. If I let myself believe the above, I will also add that the paint, at times, appears as if it were going to come out from the canvas. Vibrant, confident, and guided by the spirit of Shiraga, it wants to live on its own. The ensemble of works reveal the persistent nature of the artist’s personality, and his dedication to his practice. Stamina and explosiveness irradiate from one painting to the other, effervescing the dialogue between the paint and our imagination.
Kazuo Shiraga at Levy Gorvy (3 February – 25 March 2017)