Toshio Yoshida (1928-1997) adopted the mantra of Jiro Yoshihara—“Do what has never been done before”—to explore the intersection of painting and performance, and was one of the great original thinkers and innovators of Gutai alongside Kazuo Shiraga, Sadamasa Motonaga, Atsuko Tanaka, Shozo Shimamoto, and Saburo Murakami. The exhibition at McCaffrey begins with a selection of Burn Paintings from 1954, which Yoshida created through searing and scaring plywood panels with a soldering iron, or with red hot coals.
These works predate, and prefigure, Yves Klein’s Fire paintings of 1960, and even Alberto Burri’s Combustioni works of 1955. The audacity and directness of Yoshida’s Brushstroke paintings from 1955 and 1956 have few parallels in postwar art, occupying a unique space between Nicolas de Staël and Robert Ryman. Examples of these will also be on display: Sakuhin (55-11), 1955 is an almost monochrome canvas, made up of hundreds of heavily impastoed brush strokes, while Sakuhin (56-12), 1956 features a single applied stroke of thick paint on a black wooden panel.
Action is felt in the works, as painting and performance went hand-in-hand in Gutai. The Second Gutai Art Exhibition at Tokyo's Ohara Kaikan in 1956 saw many legendary performances including Atsuko Tanaka in her Electric Dress created from fluorescent tubes, and Saburo Murakami charging through a series of paper screens to create Passage. At that show Yoshida, characteristically, took the most direct route to painterly innovation by pouring India ink from a watering can ten feet above an enormous canvas below.
As Michel Tapié’s influence on Gutai took hold in the late 1950s, painting came more and more to the fore. Yoshida developed an even greater emphasis on the matter of painting—its matter, and how to explore its immaterial forms. In 1961 he began to use thick layers of paper clay in works such as Sakuhin (61-10) to form a ground onto which he splashed layer upon layer of color. But by 1965, he was embracing bubbles and foam in his paintings and sculptures. The instability and temporality of the material soon gave way to painterly renditions of cellular forms and water droplets like Sakuhin, 1966, and kinetic sculptures such as Foam Pattern 2125, 1972. (All on display at Fergus McCaffrey.)
Fergus McCaffrey gallery has been at the forefront of expanding knowledge about Gutai internationally for over a decade. Research into Toshio Yoshida’s career is in the early stages of development, but Fergus McCaffrey, with Gutai scholar Koichi Kawasaki, will publish a catalogue raisonné of Toshio Yoshida's work in 2019. Yoshida has been featured in every major Gutai retrospective including "Gutai: Japanische Avant-garde 1954-1965," Mathildenhöhe, Darmstadt, Germany, 1991; "Gutai," Jeu de Paume, Paris, in 1991; "Gutai: The Spirit of an Era," National Art Center, Tokyo, in 2012; and "Gutai: Splendid Playground," Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, in 2013. Important examples of Yoshida’s works exist in the collections of Les Abattoires, Toulouse, France; Ashiya City Museum of Art and History, Japan; Glenstone Museum, Potomac, MD; The Pinault Collection, Paris; and The Rachofsky Collection, Dallas, TX.