Sakurado Fine Arts is pleased to introduce Masaaki Yamada, one of the most unique and prolific Japanese post-war painters. Focusing on his abstract series ‘Work’ produced between the 1960s and 1990s, this solo exhibition takes a closer look at Yamada’s renowned variations of ‘stripes’ and ‘crosses’, and see how an internal logic based on form and color in his work challenges the fundamental visual experience of paintings.
Detaching himself from the art world, Yamada shifted from Cubism-like still-life paintings in the late-1940s to pure abstraction in the mid-1950s and kept painting ‘for the time to come’ in the chaotic aftermath of the Second World War. Some 5,000 pieces Yamada left in his lifetime are recently under reevaluation for its exceptional position in the history of Modern Art.
Among the mass of works, ‘stripe’ and ‘cross’ are two predominantly ubiquitous motifs for Yamada, which were forged so as to mimic the shape of their supporting medium, referring to the rectangle of a canvas. Generally speaking, stripes are recognized as per se when viewers compare adjacent lines and perceive them as repetitive. Based on such nature of stripes, Yamada takes up the idea of using the outline of the canvas itself as a formal component in his works. He further blurs the autonomy of a component in his painting by employing a heavy repetition of the same motif to constitute a whole series. As a result, the inherent structural constraint of a painting allows each element in Yamada's work, such as a line, stripes, a canvas, a work, and the series itself, to be loosely and intimately interrelated to each other. This notion of relativeness is highlighted in the ‘cross’ work, in which colors and lines are distorted, repelling, and melting into each other on the canvas, creating a sense of motion within the image.
Rooted in the shape of its supporting medium, each object in Yamada’s work exists on the borderline of singularity and collectivity, exploring an ambiguous zone where a form appears not only as an independent element but also as one of the components of a work. This ambiguity projects Yamada’s work as incomplete without an end, but it is such nature that Yamada regarded as the essence of a painting. Rendered in calm colors, each of the expressive line drawn delicately yet dynamically across the canvas is a vivid testimony of Yamada’s committed solitary search for a new painterly expression in the turmoil of post-war Japan.
Born in Tokyo in 1930, Yamada began to learn painting under Saburo Hasegawa, one of the pioneers in Japanese abstract painting, in 1953. His large body of work is divided into three groups: ‘Still-Life’ (1948-55) influenced by Giorgio Morandi and Paul Cezanne, ‘Work’ (1956-95) consisting of abstract paintings including stripes and marked as the most significant series, and ‘Color’ (1997-2010) consisting of monochromatic paintings. Yamada held an annual solo exhibition in Tokyo from 1969-1997, which were remarked as influential and raised his fame. Also, his works were displayed at an exhibition ‘The 1960’s: A Decade of Change in Contemporary Japanese Art’ held at The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo and Kyoto in 1981 and a number of international exhibitions abroad including Bienal de São Paulo in 1987. After his death in 2010, Yamada has once again gained a reputation for his unique position in the Japanese art history. In recent years, his works were presented at Frieze Masters in London in 2016, and in the same year, large retrospectives were held at The National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo and Kyoto. Today, Yamada’s work is in a number of reputable public museum collections in Japan and abroad.