At the time of the publication of the first Gutai bulletin, the then members, including Masatoshi MASANOBU, Tsuruko YAMAZAKI, Yasuo SUMI, Toshio YOSHIDA, Chiyu UEMAE and Michio YOSHIHARA worked with great enthusiasm. So the majority of their works were very conceptual and were a fundamental springboard for the future Gutai movement. Yoshihara, in the period that may be considered the dawn of Gutai, looked at our work, and spoke to us of the inner conflicts typifying the production of works of art, and also about possible future plans.
Master Yoshihara, owner and director of the eponymous oil company, was known for his very strict management approach and the excellent results of his business. He was also a very strict leader with us young members of Gutai. When foreign artists arrived, we were strongly reproached whenever we made mistakes speaking English or if we used words inappropriate to the situation. So we became very passive with visitors and this too angered our master.
Without adding further examples, let's say that the master was so strict that numerous members left the group. Among these were artists like Hideo YOSHIHARA and Yutaka FUNAI, who would later be recognised throughout the Japanese art world. They probably had a very different way of thinking, but also artists at the centre of the group, such as Toichiro FUJIKAWA, Tamiko UEDA, Sadami AZUMA, Hajime Okamoto and Kei ISETANI also left. At this point, the master felt discouraged and I suggested he try inviting a number of artists from the ZERO group to join Gutai, as at that time they too were also trying to find new forms of art. But personally I was worried because if master Yoshihara continued being so strict, even if new members joined, they too would soon leave. I broached the subject with Yoshihara and then the key word came to him: hattari, exaggerate.
The master, when he invited us to exaggerate, used a Kansai dialect expression, which certainly didn't sound very elegant, but on the lips of such a strict leader, on the one hand, it took on an inimitable ironic shade, and on the other transmitted great courage. I think it could well be reinterpreted as "When you commit yourself fully to an artistic act, go beyond the idea and go beyond its execution."
This memorable expression was an extremely effective encouragement especially for those who had just joined the group. On the basis of this new guideline, as soon as they joined the group, Saburo MURAKAMI, Kazuo SHIRAGA, Atsuko TANAKA, Akira KANAYAMA and others who only did smaller pieces began to try out large works full of vigour. Not only this, but there was real improvement for the Gutai Open Air and Gutai on the Stage exhibitions.
On the other hand, the members who had been there from the start never managed to free themselves completely from the influence of the master's severity, and consequently the development of their works remained somewhat limited.
There has been a recent growth in interest in Gutai, but not many people are familiar with the early days, a period when work was produced under the eye of a stern teacher, and was conceptually rich, a period when the master himself worked with us to print the first Gutai bulletin. That era was a springboard for the members from Sadamasa Motonaga onwards, and for the whole Gutai movement. The more I think about it, the more I realise how much the word "exaggerate" has played a crucial role.