With this recently acquired painting, the Walker adds to its collection a work representative of an important avant-garde art movement that is not very well known in the United States: the Gutai Art Association. Gutai, which means “embodiment,” has similarities to the Action Painting of New York in the 1950s, but is uniquely influenced by its own time and place–postwar Japan.
Established in the summer of 1954, the group formed around artist Jiro Yoshihara in Osaka and sought to create a new art “never known until now.” Coming out of Japan’s surrender in World War II, Gutai artists desired an art free of social criticism or political implication. Their first exhibition was in 1955 and featured a performance wherein Shiraga dove into a pile of mud and wrestled, kicked, and thrashed the clay mound to create an artwork sculpted by physical action.
Unlike Allan Kaprow’s Happenings in Europe and America–which weren’t to emerge for another two years–Gutai artists intended their performances to result in the creation of sculptures and more prominently, paintings. Shozo Shimamoto threw bottles of paint onto paper spread on the floor. Saburo Murakami thrust his body through packing paper stretched over frames, and painted by throwing paint-covered balls at the canvas. In this untitled painting, Shiraga used his bare feet to apply the paint onto a piece of canvas on the floor. Grasping a hanging rope, he dipped and swung himself through the thick, wet oil paint. The finished painting depicts his random spins, swirls, and slips.