T. 34, 1962

Sunday, April 30th 2023

by Kazuo Shiraga

Shiraga, T. 34, 1962
????The Estate of Kazuo Shiraga
Kazuo Shiraga in his workshop
Courtesy: Amagasaki Cultural Foundation

Kazuo Shiraga (Japanese, 1924-2008)

T. 34, 1962

Oil on canvas, signed and dated in the lower left corner.

An erased Galerie Stadler sticker on the back bearing the inscription “Galerie Stadler, 51 rue de Seine - 75006 Paris. Nom du Peintre: SHIRAGA / Titre: T. 34 - 1962 / Dimensions: 81 x 116".
Inscribed "PARIS 34" in red ink and "No 50" in black ink on the frame.

H. 81 cm/32 in. - W. 116 cm/45.5 in.

- Galerie Stadler, Paris, 1962 ;
- Private Collection, Amboise, since 1990.

We thank Ms. Aya Senoo, curator of the Amagasaki Cultural Foundation, who found the black and white negative and an untitled positive print of this painting in the documentary collection of the Kazuo Shiraga Memorial Room. She states: "It seems that the work was exhibited at Kazuo Shiraga's solo exhibition that took place at the same gallery (Stadler) between January 26 and February 22, 1962. However, there are no period photos or a list of the works shown in the exhibition brochure."

Probable exhibition:
Shiraga, Stadler Gallery, Paris, January 26 to February 22, 1962.

Le catalogue d'art contemporain n°6, 1990, Jean-Claude Livet Ed., Usson, painting reproduced under #1 with a text by Tadaô Ogura, Curator National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo.

« Turn your body and soul into a paintbrush. Say no to everything! Drop everything! Paint with all your might - anything, any way! Stretch the enamel, let it spill! Splash it into the faces of calligraphy masters. Get rid of all those puppets who worship calligraphy with a capital C... I'll make my way, I'll carve my way. It is a total rupture. »
Inoue Yûichi, Personal Diary


Back into the public eye after more than 30 years, T. 34 is a skillful demonstration of Kazuo Shiraga’s trademark foot painting technique, a revolution at the time of the painting’s 1962 creation. In its June 3, 1955 issue, the Mainichi Shinbun newspaper precisely described the painter’s ritual: "First, he takes an 80 x 116 cm canvas and applies patches of madder-red paint on it. Then, without thinking, he tramples it with his bare feet for about ten minutes. To prevent himself from slipping on the paint, he holds onto a thick rope hanging from a ring in the ceiling, which allows him to keep his balance and paint freely. In this position, he looks up, not down to the canvas, consciously avoiding to structure his painting; he lets his inner self express itself according to automatism principles." His rapid dance, alternating pauses and abrupt decisions, soon produces deep grooves on the canvas. The viscous paint collects in broad strokes and meets at multiple contradictory crossroads.

Kazuo Shiraga is one of the most prominent members of the Gutai Art Association, a Japanese avant-garde artist group active from 1954 to 1972 advocating a diversity of art forms. To get away from the bourgeois ideologies that restricted production in Japan’s capital city, the Gutai artists lead by Yoshihara Jiro settled in the peripheral region of Kansai, where they experimented with concrete art, using their body as a tool. This was an amazing revolution that did not only break behavioral patterns but also and most importantly disrupted artistic practices. They questioned the substance and meaning of artworks, thus drawing the attention of Western critics.

Shiraga exemplifies the rejection of traditional authority. With his novel interventions, he challenges the usual space of artistic creation. Beauty is no longer determined by conventional principles but based on a concept of intensity. With his performances, the artist - who perfectly mastered the art of Japanese calligraphy and later became a Buddhist monk - tried to reach a form of unconsciousness ending in pure creation. While his gesture is akin to metaphysical creative powers obeying chaotic laws, oil painting, a medium commonly used in Western countries, was also appreciated by Shiraga in view of the humanistic spirit of the European Renaissance.

Art critic Michel Tapié, who played a decisive part in promoting the Gutai Art Association, clearly distinguishes between the American and the Japanese avant-garde. While Pollock circles around his floor-lying canvas like a wild animal, Shiraga imprisons himself inside its arena and confronts it with a warlike dance. Since his 1957 trip to Osaka, Tapié had become the ambassador of Shiraga's performances in France. After taking part in a collective exhibition at Galerie Stadler in Paris in 1959, Shiraga’s first solo exhibition outside of Japan took place from January 26 to February 22, 1962 in Paris. It was so successful that, later that year, Galerie Stadler organized another exhibition featuring European and Japanese avant-garde artists called "Structures of Repetition". This was a turning point for the artist who suddenly gained international visibility. Eight more exhibitions based on his work were organized in France, Italy and Osaka, Japan, in 1962.

The extensive experimental period of the late 1950s allowed Shiraga to produce a series of works that met his own requirements as well as those of the international market. While most of his paintings are untitled or simply named "Sakuhin" - "work" in Japanese - some have been named since 1959 in reference to The 108 outlaws, famous characters of Asian literature whose adventures are narrated in the Water Margin novels. Other paintings were numbered to meet the bookkeeping requirements of Galerie Stadler. Our painting is one of them: its frame is marked "No 50" in black ink and "Paris 34" in red ink, and its canvas is stamped with the name of its supplier (Funauka). That same number 34 is used in the title of the painting written on the Galerie Stadler sticker, "T. 34". To this day, only fourteen paintings entitled "T…" are referenced; this could be the initial letter of the word "Travail" - “work” in French - or that of the name of French art critic "Tapié". All of them were exhibited in Galerie Stadler and painted in 1962, except for one that was made in 1961. Their numbers range discontinuously from "T.32" to "T.56", with no apparent link to the "No" numbering. It is believed that they were acquired by Rodolphe Stadler following Shiraga's first solo exhibition in February 1962.

With its wide range of colors, among which the famous "Crimson Lake" red, the sharp energy expressed in our painting illustrates the artist’s pure sincerity. The final picture goes well beyond what was at work during its making. Devoid of any visible footprints, the petrified effect of T. 34 wonderfully conveys the violence the canvas was subjected to. Left to its own devices, this painting born from a single gesture presents its intrinsic character to the viewer: a perfect convergence of body, mind and matter in what can be seen as Shiraga's exaltation of the Absolute.

Aymeric Rouillac and Valentin de Sa Morais
translated by Sabine Vincenot

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