Time, which measures the dynamism of every human act, has derailed all the languages of contemporary art. It has expelled every specific that distinguished one art from another, shaking Space and subtracting it from its immobility.
Shimamoto, historical protagonist of the Gutai group, supported the invasive dimension of time in the space of painting.
The gesture, the act of throwing paint onto the canvas from a distance, becomes speed, eroticism, and the desire to broaden the magnetic field of the work through the introduction of chance.
If Michelangelo is recognisable due to the anthropomorphic form of his figures, and Picasso thanks to the vibrant eroticism of his Cubist de-compositions, in the network of his labyrinthine de-compositions Shimamoto does not find so much the reflection of his own image but the anxietas of the modern condition, where man is necessarily indeterminate. His walking performance is the result of an awareness of the irreversible loss of the centre in art and life.
Automatism therefore means the freedom of language to behave and to aggregate new meanings also beyond the artist’s will to project, which actually allows other factors to intervene in the work and to bring about a broadening of meaning, up to its transformation into pure signifier.
This means that the artist does not wish to move from one certainty to another but to produce shifts as a perpetual movement of meaning that never becomes fixed.
In any case, these processes take place in unexpected ways, not conditioned by the will but subject to imponderable rules, and for surrealism too, having unpredictability entered the game of art – this time determined by the very nature of the unconscious – which expands and dilates the scope of intention of the work.
Shimamoto’s art becomes a further ‘moving beyond’ and expansion insofar as it also regains the value of the territories of numbed thought, the impulse that filters directly beyond the censorship of form – and in spite of it. Shimamoto thus makes an unusual gesture, an unconscious movement that breaks the canons of reason to unsettle the rigid limits of things and eliminate them.
Shimamoto has freed us from gravitational weight; he has taught us that very different materials and very different magmas move beneath the apparent armistice that regulates the distance between solid bodies and our gaseous ones. He pierced the breastplate and skin of phenomena, to overturn before our very eyes the inner viscera that ferment darkly without decor and without rest.
But to reach this point, we must first disarm; the artist must abandon all control and literally abandon himself to the black holes of the unconscious. After Freud, art is no longer the drawbridge that leads to vertical purities but becomes the mole that digs deep in order to suck the form of the fluxes and exalting miasmas upward from a place forbidden to reason and reasonable memory. The unconscious, with its stratifications and oxidation, and its circular temporality, weighs down as it comes to the surface.
In Shimamoto, automatism becomes the categorical imperative of a new creativity open to the impulse that rises like a feeling of nausea and affirms itself through its intensity but not its clarity. Intensity becomes the truth that authorises the pictorial gesture, that blinds the many eyes of reason, causing to it stumble in the Dionysian field of pure desire. The movements correspond to those of the dream space, theorised by Freud: those of displacement and condensation, but also of an oriental way of thinking, felicitously open to chance.
The automatism of the gesture is directly proportional to the automatism of the psyche, to the unconscious and involuntary motion of the profound. The material of art is the unconscious with its energy, the imaginary that flies in all directions, scattered at all heights and depths.
The imaginary is a mental energy that not only touches the cortical level but crosses the entire body of the artist, understood as an electrical field that generates chains of emotions and triggers impulses that, without the experience of art, would remain crouching inside the hollow of dark unknowability. Artistic creativity becomes the harpoon that seizes the luminous and nocturnal splinter within the magma of the unconscious.
Form brings the darkness to light; it promotes the ascent and the clear exposition of the detail that not even the artist can name without the reassuring gesture of art. It is not enough to lift one’s gaze; it is not enough to question the heavens like the augurs of the past, but it is necessary to scratch – literally – under the skin to make what has been removed emerge.
Scratching is what Shimamoto does, discovering for art what childish games actually do, a way of rubbing the soul of an object to make it emerge as a subliminal shadow and image. The hand is not opposed to reality in attempting to imitate it but follows it through the blissful obtuseness of a gesture whose movement knows no direction except the hedonistic movement of automatism.
Shimamoto works at the intersection of a dual tradition. One is linked to the historical avant-gardes in the strategic person of Marcel Duchamp with his ready-made, the other derived from oriental philosophy and the esoterism of Castaneda that leads him to understand the value of chance. This is stimulated through techniques derived from everyday life and the use of tools that do not belong to the technical-expressive apparatus of art history. Shimamoto uses the precision of the hunter and the pain of the prey.
Here, the artist becomes the gun bearer of a vision tuned to the distance of the near and the far, ready to frame an external detail that immediately becomes the target. Shimamoto uses the cannon or rifle as a prosthesis to reduce the spatial interval between his body and the surrounding reality. He uses surfaces of all kinds on which to have tins of paint explode, strokes of colour that transfigure the flesh of the support (canvas, paper, or wood) and break it in unpredictable and rough-edged bursts, wounds with no possibility of scarring.
Thus, these surfaces become a painful shoulder, material pierced by the explosive strike of the cannon or the rifle that cruelly lacerates all smoothness, randomly chosen and randomly transformed into something else by itself.
Any material pierced by the attention of the artist that strikes, burns, drips, and sprays, driving energy outside its corporeal space becomes painful. It needs a formally defined stop, a target able to conserve for future memory the aggressive impetus of an expressive need, full of eroticism and death impulses.
Because art is just that: a short circuit of eros and thanatos. Every foundation of life always needs a preventive destruction, according to the classic Nietzschean adage. Destruction serves to clear the field, to purify matter and then treat it without waste or remains.
Shimamoto began with cut-up, dissecting, with the sadistic and loving care of the surgeon, the aching flesh of painting, mortified by the codification of meaning, by the logical-discursive consequentiality of the image. Through a cut, the painting has a jolt of pain and awakening; it loses the plaster-cast protection of meaning and opens up to new possibilities.
This possibility arises from the irruption of chance running through the planned surface of the sheet of paper with writing on it. Like a geometric telluric movement, the surgeon-painter’s scissors return words to their state of mutilated fragment open to new understandings. The appearance of the signifier does not communicate a pacified meaning but the mysterious beauty of the unpredictable and the unsayable. For Shimamoto, the transferral of the operation to figurative art has meant a passage from the identity of the surgeon to that of the hunter.
Creation always remains a knocking at the door, a request for permission to gain access to chance, which thus breaks into the universe of forms.
If the cut-up (cutting the canvas into several parts) made it possible to formalise the unsayable, the ‘shotgun’ technique is the basis for the appearance of the invisible, what Klee asked art to do. In short, Shimamoto, as a good Eastern shaman, also applies the apotropaic and magical strategy of Castaneda to Duchamp’s door. He knocks with a rifle, and the door opens wide in the direction of a signifier that keeps its doors open to all sides.
And thus appear the drips, burns, anthropomorphic signals, circular shapes, graffiti, glimpses of various depths, and holes and craters adorning the surface marked by Shimamoto’s sudden strikes.
Shimamoto’s universe is made up of voluntary formal incidents: tossing a coin, a brush, a rifle shot, coloured stains, the introduction of the outlines of things, trees and men, the presence of leaves, grids, masks, pieces of broken glass, photo puzzles, and, last of all, words. Everything becomes image. And this is the effect of an art always played out on the transformation of the elements. A fury that always includes a quotient of intelligent chance that accompanies the creative event.
If Mallarmé’s coup de dés needs a minimum distance, a wholly European domestic space, the conceptual interval between the sheet of paper and the hand throwing the dice, the artist’s technique acts in a wholly Eastern space, a long interval that takes into account the spatial vastness that anyway connects the different continents through a multicultural art system.
Shimamoto thus educates the viewer through a precise activity that bends violence to other beneficial and lasting purposes, such as the additional one of admiring new forms of beauty dictated by improvisation and the subsequent contemplation of the result obtained.
A conjugation of two different anthropologies, with the arrival of a new and original one that contains within itself a synthesis capable of representing a short circuit between Western and Eastern thought, between the figurative and the abstract, narration and decoration, all enclosed in a single form: art.
The excellent movement of art, between surrealist hazard and Zen vitalism helps to shift the perspective, to burn up all inertia and move to a higher level of existence. Shimamoto broadens the boundaries of action and feeling, stabilising the presence of chance in the life of Western man, led to action planned according to reason and utility.
The artist is not a conscientious objector renouncing action, a beautiful soul with a pacific nature. In Shimamoto’s case, he also accepts the inevitability of violence by bending it to expressive ends, using it to demonstrate how it is possible to break the stylistic armour of the world by opening it up to new feeling and perception. The artist is a hunter for social purposes, using a deadly weapon to re-establish life.
The imaginary therefore releases energy, which art then takes it upon itself to condense in a different way, opening up a dual path towards the symbolic and the material. It unfurls processes and strategies of the image that reach complementary results, as they are both dictated by the impulse to be talked about, through the disjointed articulation of surreality. A surreality that does not dwell above artists but beneath their feet.
The symbolic and the material are a constant in Shimamoto’s work; cultural and organic energy often activate the same works in an inseparable interpenetration. Because the source it draws upon is always the unconscious where the inorganic nature of the symbol coexists with the proliferating force of elementary energy. Both components are the substance and binding force of a core in which every point is the centre, as it is not possible to measure its extension precisely but only the level of drive and its continual, non-stop growth.
Automatism works both as the free and open association of data that strengthen each other through their symmetrical estrangement and as an incentive of randomness and spontaneous growth. Matter is organised at the lowest level; the imaginary flies in near contact with organic substance, assuming the guises of the pictorial matter itself until it comes to identify with it. Painting becomes the field of action of a continuous metamorphosis, of a proliferation that not only means growth but also mobile dissemination and open dislocation. Here, metaphor and metonymy tend to meld inextricably; painting becomes the point where the substance of the psyche precipitates into the matter of art, where the imaginary rushes to its formal point of arrival.
The automatism of the psyche and automatic techniques become the process and the procedure that free the unconscious, so that it emerges, respecting the paradox of an impossible revelation.
Art is no longer an end but a means.
The artist becomes a man of conciliation, the one who relates internal and external continuity, who tends to raise the real from its state of separateness to introduce the direct possibility of the irruption of the deep to the surface of a form that rejects nothing and retains everything.
Shimamoto has an almost colloquial relationship with his unconscious; he speaks to it in the second person with the confidence of a presence that admits of no denial. Art is the proof of this privileged relationship in one who enjoys, as it were, a jus primae noctis that he always expects to exercise and perform. His artistic research takes place via the use of elementary techniques that reduce the punctilious complexity of traditional procedure to give way directly to chance and the casual excess of internal drives. Shimamoto’s painting is by definition exuberant; it is an affirmative gesture that restores the primacy of the ghost over the static evidence of things. The ghost creeps into the thousand ways of language, in germinal or larval form, or in the guise of a disturbing image.
Automatic techniques are the irreducible traits, the soundings that delve into the darkest depths. Frottage and dripping, grinding and dripping constitute the materialisation of this technical necessity, the zeroing of all complexity in favour of elementary movements that privilege the autonomy of the hand from the eye, the independence of the work from the watchful attention of the artist.
Shimamoto used these techniques in the fifties, opening up possibilities for art work to reach beyond painting through processes that relied ‘solely on the intensification of the irritability of the faculties of the spirit’. Reduction of technical complexity shifts the role of the artist towards that of ‘spectator’, one who witnesses the birth of the work, refraining from any active and conscious participation, so that the work itself takes the hand of the artist.
In Shimamoto’s action-painting, in his erotic pictorial broadsides against painting itself, the ritual of gesture serves to exorcise reality and to return to the organic and dynamic origin of life. Only the artistic gesture can draw into its vortex the desperate movement of the existing that thus realises in short and discrete instants the totalising paradises and the cycles of its humanity. Apart from these moments of universality, the artist lives in the dimension of everyday life, unable to overcome the separateness that exists between man and man, and between man and things. But it is understood that the discontinuity of existence pertains to the structural laws that govern the world and that the blindness of chance composes and de-composes every human act.
The visible chaos of things faithfully reproduces the underground movement along which the ulterior movement of appearance flows. The artist must accept a permanently unbalanced life open to every flux of the possible. Only through this acceptance can the gesture of art be in harmony with universal movement and epiphanically grasp bundles of true and complex existence. Checkmate does not start from a feeling of frustration but from the awareness that only in the moment of artistic creativity is an effective synchrony with the world and the cadence of its movement established.
The space of pictorial action is not only enclosed within the canvas: it also encompasses the fluid distance of separation between the canvas and the body of the artist who, through the permanent imbalance in his ability to move, creates an effective connection with his work, a symptomatic connection not only in terms of the result but above all the procedure undertaken, tending to manifest itself as a strategy for the recovery and liberation of the overall vitality of the individual.
Thus, the bi-dimension encapsulates a potential extroversion that is also the projection of Shimamoto’s tendency to leave behind the inevitability of the linguistic sphere, attempting the direct recovery of the existential given. And recovery does not take place at the metaphorical level, which is anyway a formal sublimation but through what is effectively antagonism with the space of everyday life, violated through gesture and literally occupied.
The intensification of the gesture and the zeroing of the symbolic level are the operational constants of Shimamoto’s painting, prepared in this sense by cultural anthropology itself. The vitalistic acceleration achieved through art takes painting in directions in which the cultural distillates of symbolic production are no longer possible. This does not mean cultural retreat but the affirmation of an art that competes with life, not to be confused or lost within it: rather it acknowledges a moment of vertigo when faced with the horizontality of existence.
This was the reason why, in 1955, Shimamoto also created three-dimensional works, such as his uneven six-metre catwalk. It was unstable, to signify the precariousness of everyday life and the indispensable concentration required to live; it was on show once again in the gardens of the 1993 Biennale.
The relationship between East and West thus finds a form of expression and connection that brings totally original results from the point of view of intensity and intention. In both cases, art is practised as a total representation, as the initiation of a growing vertigo that starts and develops through the creative process.
In the furor of this generation of artists, the material of art finds – albeit from different contexts – essential lymph on which to feed. In the re-establishment of the creative act, it becomes capable of resuming the ascensional practice of a total gesture.
They are characterised by an intentional sensitivity, the result of a collective poetics that seeks to re-establish the totality of life, hindered by the partiality of daily experience. In particular, Shimamoto assumes his natural role as the Samurai of painting, one who practises the creative act as a martial art in an unceasing performance of actions that put vitalism and discipline at centre stage. His goal is to widen the aesthetic space of the gesture to the maximum, encompassing earth and sky.
Thus, on May 9th 2008, Shimamoto did a performance at the Charterhouse of San Giacomo on Capri, in which he pelted a large canvas stretched out on the ground with bottles of paint; the event took place thanks to the cultural and technical support of the Morra Foundation and Rosanna Chiessi’s Pari&Dispari Archive. Now the event has been transformed into the stability of painting thanks to the exhibition of twenty works that represent memory and duration.
They show how painting becomes the place where the ecstatic element of the creative gesture is frozen and produces the duration of the action.
In short, painting is the duration of the action in Shimamoto’s work, capturing the temporal dimension that vaporises and pervades the spatial enclosure within which a work is formed in its procedural dynamism. The spectator is thus directly involved as an active witness to the event in the excellent movement of creation
Achille Bonito Oliva