Shimamoto Shozo was one of the original members of the Gutai Art Association (Gutai bijutsu kyokai) founded in Osaka, Japan, in 1954 under the leadership of Yoshihara Jiro, the group’s teacher and an imposing presence. Gutai, which literally means “concrete,” lasted until 1972, the year of Yoshihara’s death, but its most original works arguably were made during the late 1950s and early 1960s. International recognition came rather quickly and widely for Gutai, and the self-promotion and networking built into the movement’s strategies attest, in retrospect, to the ambition of a group situated away from the center of the Japanese art world in Tokyo. Gutai’s accomplishments were especially remarkable given the historical circumstances of postwar Japan: the country was defeated and devastated by World War II and subsequently rebuilt under the American occupation (1945 to 1951).
In the Gutai Manifesto published in 1956, Yoshihara wrote: “Gutai art does not transform matter. Gutai art gives life to matter. In Gutai art, the human spirit and matter remain in confrontation as they shake hands… . Bringing matter to life fully is the means for bringing the spirit to life. The raising of the spirit is the introduction of matter into a highly creative place.”1 Reflecting the Manifesto, albeit never slavishly, Gutai artists indeed tended to use materials as a means for achieving sometimes unpredictable possibilities rather than preconceived visions. Shimamoto had already made a series of paintings (circa 1949 to 1952) in which he punctured layers of glued newspaper. They were roughly contemporaneous with Lucio Fontana’s famous Concetto Spaziale (Spatial Concept) paintings, in which the artist made cuts, holes, and slashes.2
Soon after joining Gutai, Shimamoto began his signature painting experiment—hurling and shattering glass bottles filled with pigments on canvas. In Untitled (1961), a chaotic melange of colors—white, scarlet, maroon, pinkish orange, and black—is accreted in thick impasto in the center of the canvas, its round mass and fleshy folds giving it a rather disconcertingly visceral feel. On top of and around it are thinner stains, splatters, rivulets, and eddies of paint, which add a further dimension to the optical push-and-pull dynamic of volume and motion. Shards of glass encrusted on the surface enhance the painting’s tactile sensation amidst the vortex of chromatic collision. Made without a brush or any of the usual tools of painting, the work majestically testifies to an action forceful in its execution and dauntless in its abandonment of creative control to the caprices of chance and physics.
Reprinted in Document Gutai 1954–1972 (Ashiya, Japan: Ashiya City Culture Foundation, 1993), 8. Originally published in Japanese as Gutai bijutsu sengen in Geijutsu shincho 7, no. 12 (December 1956). The English translation is a reprint of the text in Barbara Bertozzi and Klaus Wolbert, GUTAI, Japanische Avantgarde/Japanese Avant-Garde 1954–1965 (Darmstadt, Germany: Mathildenhöhe, 1991), 364–369. ↩
For a discussion of Shimamoto and Fontana in the same context, see Paul Schimmel, “Leap into the Void: Performance and the Object,” in Paul Schimmel, ed., Out of Actions: Between Performance and the Object, 1949–1979, exh. cat. (Los Angeles: Museum of Contemporary Art, 1998). ↩