Painting is the Duration of Action – Achille Bonito Oliva

These works by Shimamoto are works in movement, brought more to a short formal interruption than to a finished definition. They are open to a dynamic that the public is free to pursue. A deliberate unfinishedness enhances this process, a strategic intensification of sensitivity and matter. The guru Shimamoto presents his work as the result of a slow and gradual discipline that hounds the world, source of ecstasy and danger.
Ecstasy is the first and final moment of the creative operation. It captures the attention of the world and produces together the need for movement, the subtraction from the pure acknowledgement of things and a revolution in modifying action.
Danger is the destiny of man, as René Char would say. In this case it means the need to do acts of violence against things, subverting the false pacification that runs between them. Shimamoto brings war but without an enemy. The introduction to chance avoids the frontality of such a meeting. If an enemy exists, this is the convention, the social code that governs the survival of man in daily life at the expense of intensity.
The excellent movement of art, between surrealist hazard and Zen vitalism helps shift the aim, to eliminate all inertia and pass to a higher level of existence. Shimamoto extends the limits of action and feeling. Stabilising the presence of chance in the life of western man has led to action programmed according to reason and utility. The artist is not a conscientious objector who gives up action, a refined soul with a pacific nature. In the case of Shimamoto, he also accepts the inevitability of violence, bending it to expressive ends, showing through violence how it is possible to break the stylistic carapace of the world, opening it up to a new way of feeling and perceiving. The artist is a hunter for social purposes who uses a fatal weapon to start life up again. The imaginary therefore unleashes energy, which art then has the role of condensing differently, opening a double road, to the symbolic and to the material. It deploys procedures and strategies of the image that lead to complementary results, as all are dictated by the impulse to be spoken to by the inarticulate articulation of surreality. A surreality which does not live above the artists, but lives right below the soles of their feet. It is not enough to simply look upwards, it is not enough to enquire like the augurs of the past, to the sky, but it is necessary to literally scratch below the skin to bring what has been removed to the surface. Shimamoto scratches, uncovering for art the childhood game which puts into practice a way of rubbing away at the soul of an object to bring it to the surface like a shadowy and subliminal image. The hand is not opposed to reality in an attempt to imitate it, but seconds it through the happy obtuseness of the gesture which has no notion of direction in its movement other than the hedonism of automatism.
The symbolic and the material constantly cross Shimamoto; a cultural and organic energy often activate the same works in an inseparable multifacetedness, because its source is always the unconscious, where the organic whole of the symbols exists with the proliferating force of an elemental energy. Both components make up the substance and the binding force of a nucleus where every point is the centre, since it is not possible to measure exactly the range but only the impulse level and its constant and endless growth.

Automatism works both as a free and open association of data which mutually fortify each other, thanks to their symmetrical alienation, and as an incentive of randomness and spontaneous growth. Matter is organised at a lower level, the imaginary flies close to the organic substance, assuming the disguise of the pictorial matter itself until it becomes one with it. The context becomes the field of action of a continuous metamorphosis, of a proliferation which not only means growth but also mobile dissemination and open dislocation. Here metaphor and metonym tend to weld together inextricably, and painting becomes the point where the psychic substance rushes into the matter of art, where the imaginary runs against its final dwelling.
Psychic automatism and automatic techniques become the process and the procedure that frees the unconscious, bringing it to the surface, respecting the paradox of an impossible unveiling.
Art is no longer an end but a means. The artist becomes a man of conciliation, the one who unites in a relationship of internal and external continuity, which tends to raise the real from its state separation to introduce the direct possibility of the irruption of the deep onto the surface of a form that rejects nothing and withholds all. Shimamoto has a relationship with the unconscious which is almost colloquial, speaking to it in the second person with the assurance of a presence which does not admit denial. Art is precisely the proof of this privileged relationship, of one who has a sort of jus primae noctis in perpetual expectation of being exercised and realised. The search takes place by means of elementary techniques which reduce the punctilious complexity of the traditional procedure, giving way directly to chance and the natural excess of the internal drives. Shimamoto’s painting is by definition exuberant, is an affirmative gesture that re-establishes the primacy of the phantasm against the static evidence of things. The phantasm insinuates itself into a thousand modes of language, in embryonic form, or like the remains of a disturbing image.
The automatic techniques are the unshakable means, the sounding lines that fish in the dark depths. Frottage and dripping constitute the materialisation of this technical need, the zeroing of all complexity in favour of elementary movements that favour the independence of the hand over the eye, the independence of the work over the careful aims of the artist.
In the fifties, Shimamoto practiced these techniques, opening up practical possibilities for an art projected beyond painting through procedures that rest “solely on the intensification of the irritability of the faculty of the spirit”. The reduction of technical complexity moves the artist towards the role of “spectator”, assisting at the birth of the work abstaining from any active participation and conscience, so that the work takes the hand of the artist.

In Shimamoto’s action-painting, in his erotic broadsides of painting against painting itself, the ritual of the gesture serves to exorcize reality and return to the organic origin and dynamic of life. Only the gesture of art can attract into its own grip the desperate movement of the existent which thus realises in short and separate times the totalising paradises and the cycles of its own humanity. Apart from the moments of globality, the artist lives in the dimension of the daily, without managing to overcome the separation between man and man and between man and things. But it is understood that the discontinuousness of existence belongs to the structural laws that govern the world and that the blindness of chance composes and breaks down every human act.
The visible chaos of things faithfully reproduces the underground movement upon which the further movement of appearance runs. The artist must accept a permanently imbalanced life open to all possible flows. Only through this acceptance can the gesture of art harmonise with the universal moment and gather in an epiphany the “lumps” of true and complex existence. The setback does not start from a feeling of frustration, but from the awareness that only in a moment of artistic creativity can an effective synchronisation be set up with the world and the times of its movement.
The space of pictorial action is not closed only within the canvas, but also englobes the fluid distance between the canvas and the body of the artist which, through the permanent balance of its own motion, realises an effective connection with the work. A symptomatic connection not only for the result, but especially for the procedure set in motion, tending to present itself as a recovery strategy for the liberation of the individual’s global vitality. Thus, two-dimensionality contains within it a potential to reach out which becomes then the projection of the aptitude the Japanese artist has to escape from the ineluctability of the linguistic sphere, to try to directly recover the existential given. And recovery does not happen at a metaphorical level, which still makes up a formal subliminisation, but through an actual antagonism with the space of the everyday, raped through gestures and literally occupied.
The intensification of the gestures and the zeroing of the symbolic level are the operational constants of Shimamoto’s painting, predisposed in this sense by his own cultural anthropology. The vital acceleration obtained through art leads painting towards directions where the cultural distillation of symbolic production is no longer possible. This does not mean cultural stagnation, but the affirmation of an art that competes with life but not to become confused or lost with it, so much as to recognise a moment of giddiness alongside the horizontality of existence.
For this reason, in 1955 Shimamoto also created three-dimensional works, such as the six-metre gangway unbalanced on the two sides and unstable for the public, to show the precariousness of daily life and the essential concentration needed to live it, followed up in the gardens of the 1993 Biennial.
The relationship between East and West thus finds an expression and a Conjugation which allows totally original results in terms of intensity and intentionality. In both cases, art is practised as a total representation, as an initiation of a growing giddiness that finds in the creative process its moment of testing and complete activation. The subject of art finds in the furor of this generation of artists, while belonging to different contexts, the essential lymph needed for its nourishment. It finds in the refounding of the creative act the possibility to start again the climbing practice of a total gesture.
An intentional sensitivity identifies them, fruit of a collective poetic that would relaunch the whole of life, prevented by the partiality of daily experience. In particular, Shimamoto adopts the natural position of the Samurai of painting, of one who practices the martial arts in the creative act. An incessant performance of actions highlights vitality and discipline. The aim is to broaden as much as possible the aesthetic space of the gestures, englobing earth and sky.
So, on 9 May 2008 Shimamoto staged a performance in the Charterhouse of San Giacomo in Capri, bombarding a canvas laid on the ground with coloured bottles, with the cultural and technical support of the Fondazione Morra and of the Pari&Dispari archives belonging to Rosanna Chiessi. Now the event has transformed into the stability of the painting with the presentation of twenty works which constitute memory and duration. All this makes the current exhibition in Roma possible, proof of how painting becomes the field of an aesthetic pause in the creative gesture and produces the duration of the action.

Achille Bonito Oliva