by Shozo Shimamoto
Japanese ‘ukiyoe’ and ‘korin’s’ pictures are often spoke highly of by European and American critics of art. This is not because these works of art are excellent, but because they are exotic and eccentric.
In 1950, I talked with my master Jiro Yoshihara on this subject, In Japan, artists cannot be valued without winning recognition among European or American artists after a long story with them. We Japanese artists have to produce the works effected by them.
Japanese artistic critics are excellent at linguistic or historical studies, but do not have any good sense. They applaud quite easily those works which have already been highly estimated in Europe or America. They pay no attention to those which have been newly produced in Japan. They behave as U the people of less-developed countries valued everything of the advanced nations.
Just after the surrender, the field of art in Japan was not controlled. Though there was a lot of troubles, there was no hierarchy. Jiro Yoshihara and I did not follow western examples but suggested that we should find a new way of art. So we were treated very coldly, especially here in Kansai District.
We made every effort to change old japanese patterns. In 1950, the works I tried to produce were very fantastic: e. g. a single arrow sign on a piece of paper, a picture of only one circle drawn on the canvas and a hole made on’ the center of the canvas etc. Jiro Yoshihara praised me from the bottom of his heart, but others cast no kind glance toward me.
Our purpose was so great that the seven members who met together at the beginning left the group, but the new members met together soon after. Old members left and new members came several times. While we were busy with one thing and another, I aided Jiro Yoshihara to show our purpose to the world abroad. Yozo Ukita who later became a member of ‘Gutai’ took the trouble of burying a second hand letter-press printing machine. We printed many woodcut like pictures in my studio. Jiro Yoshihara made a cover out of a celluloid board.
One year passed and I proposed to call our group ‘Gutai’. We mean by ‘Gutai ’ that we should show ourselves directly and concretely. We did not want to show our feeling indirectly or abstractly.
We published the first edition of ‘Magazine Gutai’ on January 1, 1955, and sent the copies to the artists all over the world.
Some of the members who have the names of theirs on the first edition, however, left the group. So I called on Kazuo Shiraga, Saburo Murakami, Atsuko Tanaka and Akira Kanayama. They have their names in the second edition of ‘Gutai’.
We often had meetings under the auspices of Jiro Yoshihara who had been influenced by Mondrian during the war. The aim to have the meetings was to make the works different from those of Mondrian’s.
In the Zen-temple called Kaiseyi of Nishinomiya City, you find the Calligraphy made by Nantembo at the end of the 19th century. The brushing stroke painted by him is about 50 centimeters wide, but the splashes of Sumi (China) ink on the paper made the stroke look like the one several meters wide. We cannot find this fact in the pictures of Mondrian’s.
Kazuo Shiraga put various oil colors on the canvas and hung himself on the ceiling with a rope to paint a picture with his feet. Saburo Murakami placed seventeen japanese paper doors in a row and broke through them by making himself rush against them. As for me, I made a bullet of oil colors and exploded it against the canvas with some acetylene put into an iron pipe 30 centimeters in diameter and 4 meters long.
We were interested in not only the Calligraphy but also in the pictures draw by the children whom we were teaching how to draw. It was long afterward that we were shown the artistic works of the informel.
We made every effort to establish a new way of art. We opened the outdoor exhibition along the banks of the Ashiya River, and exhibited our works on some stages. Though the journalists paid no attention to our attempt, we were satisfied. Jiro Yoshihara, who was the president of a big company, was said to produce such strange works because of his wealth. This comment is not right. If such a wealthy business man as he behaved in a queer way, he would surely fail in his attempt. This is a pitiful fact in Japan. Art critics could easily understand these circumstances if they had good sense.
In 1960, the artists who were not the members of ‘Gutai ’ showed their works. It was much easier for them to make themselves understood in the world of art than we do, because they were thought to be the leading formal factions. On the other hand, ‘Gutai ’ members appealed to the artists abroad by exhibiting their works in group. On 195 7, Michel Tapié, famous artistic critic in France visited Japan and saw the works of our group. We talked with him and felt deep friendship for him. He said, << In the world of art, I don’t think that a group can make a fine work, but the group ‘Gutai’ has made an excellent piece. Although I don ’t believe a group makes a good work, I should say that ‘Gutai ’ group has produced fine works ».
In 1976, I became a general of AU secretariat. While I was one of the members of ‘Gutai ’ group, I published the magazines and sent the copies abroad. After the dissolution of the group, I started to make the mail art named ‘Chaugutai’. In 1976 the mail art named ‘AU’ was published and sent abroad.
In August, 1985, we published the 71st edition of (AU). Now that the networking of mail art has a lot of friends in various places on earth it is very important for us mail artists to exchange our feeling and thoughts among us.
Published in Lotta Poetica Italy 1987