Shozo Shimamoto | Biography
Years 20-50's | Years 60-70's | Years 80-90's | Years 2000
Shozo Shimamoto was born in Osaka, Japan, in 1928. Together with Jiro Yoshihara, he was co-founder of the Gutai group, and he is considered one of the most experimental artists in the period after World War II. Gutai, the first radical artistic movement in Japan, developed in the late fifties, more or less contemporary with the informal movement in European and American art. Its main aim was to give new life to the Japanese artistic tradition. A work of art, for them, was no longer a simple support, but became a physical transposition of the artist's actions, which is what (like in action painting) turns the work of art into an action. Shimamoto, a pivotal figure in the movement, felt the need for new signs of expression that he found both in action and matter. The first artistic experiments, the Ana (holes), which date back to the forties, consist of a series of sheets of paper covered with a layer of white paint. Shimamoto would rub his body against them to make gashes. After a period of assiduous study with Yoshihara, in 1954 he and his teacher jointly decided to found the Gutai group - The Concrete Art Movement. When, in the pine forest in Ashiya, the group officially appeared in public for the first time in 1955, Shimamoto presented a sheet of metal painted white on one side and blue on the other. In the dark, all the perforations created the effect of a starry sky thanks to a lamp shining onto it. These first experiments were followed by Please walk on here (1956), a wooden walkway mounted on a spring system which allowed the user to actively experience the existential precariousness of walking, and Cannon Work, where paint was fired onto a canvas from a small cannon. This was the first of his works dedicated to the liberation of the random expressiveness of matter. Shortly afterwards, Shimamoto developed the bottle crash technique, a practice consisting in throwing bottles full of paint onto a canvas. The work of art becomes the result of a relational process between action and matter, between action and colour, whose leitmotif is randomness, and the artist is an actor and interpreter of a performative action shared with the audience, a witness and completion of the scenario of colour built up by the artist. In 1957, he took part in his first exhibition, "Gutai Art on the Stage" at the Sankei Center in Osaka, where he exhibited his video and sound works. It was then that he also began to hold exhibitions outside Japan, appearing in important institutions and galleries such as the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and the Musée cantonal des Beaux Arts in Lausanne. In 1972, the Gutai Group broke up after the death of Yoshihara, and Shimamoto began exploring Mail Art, an avant-garde practice consisting in sending letters, postcards, envelopes and the like, raised to the level of art through ad hoc modifications and delivered to one or more recipients by post. Shimamoto formed his own vision of Mail Art: his shaved head became the medium on which to write, paint, or affix objects. In 1987 the Dallas Museum invited him to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Duchamp. His performance consisted in projecting messages of peace and film clips onto his head. In the nineties he took up the Bottle Crash technique once more, endowing it with new meanings. He put on a series of performances in the US and throughout Europe. In 1998 he was selected for an exhibition at MOCA in Los Angeles as one of the four greatest artists of the post-war world, along with Jackson Pollock, John Cage and Lucio Fontana; the following year he took part in the 48th Venice Biennale with David Bowes and Yoko Ono. In 2004, he did a performance from a helicopter in anticipation of the forthcoming 2005 Venice Biennale. In May 2006, the Fondazione Morra in Naples hosted a retrospective, "Shozo Shimamoto. Opere '50-'90", that opened with a performance in Naples’ historic Piazza Dante, where, suspended from a crane and accompanied on the piano by Charlemagne Palestine, he dropped a ball full of paint onto a canvas. Among the many collections where his works can be seen, of particular note are the Tate Gallery, the Pompidou Centre, and the Galleria di Arte Moderna in Rome, as well as almost all the Japanese galleries. He died in Osaka in 2013.